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Speed Review: Sustaining Distance Training

Speed Review: Sustaining Distance Training

Speed Review: Sustaining Distance Training

Integrating Learning Technologies Into the Fabric of the Enterprise

by Zane Berge

Berge gathers a series of case studies displaying the potential and variety of distance training — for example, using Web-based courses and videoconferencing.

Review

How Computers Are Replacing Classrooms
According to Zane L. Berge, University of Maryland training expert and editor of Sustaining Distance Training, the future of corporate training programs is not traditional instructor-led, presentation-style training, but rather sophisticated technology-based, including Web-based, distance training. By 2002, for example, technology-based training (such as videoconferencing and desktop computer-based training) will represent more than half of all corporate training, up from 21 percent in 1998. But it is Web-based training that will grow exponentially. In 1997, companies spent $197 million on Web-based training. That figure is expected to reach $5.5 billion in 2002, an astounding 95 percent annual growth.

In his 1998 book, Distance Training, Berge and co-editor Deborah Schreiber presented a series of case studies that featured companies on the cutting edge of distance training. The 17 case studies featured in the sequel, Sustaining Distance Training, show how a variety of public and private sector organizations of all sizes have taken distance training to a higher level by integrating it into the strategic planning process.

A New Perspective
As Berge explains in his introductory chapters, these companies no longer view distance training from a limited project or program perspective. Instead, distance training is treated as an important element in their future economic success. Top executives decide how distance training can contribute to the organizational mission and vision of their companies; they then use the tools at their disposal - infrastructure, budget, staffing and planning policy - to ensure that distance training plays an important role in establishing the organization's competitive advantage. Eventually, distance training is no longer seen as a series of individual events, but rather, writes Berge, "these activities and programs become an accepted part of how business is done."

The 17 case studies presented in Sustaining Distance Training are drawn from a variety of organizations and industries - including governmental units, such as the U.S. Army; and foreign companies, such as the Paris-based management consultancy Cap Gemini. The 17 case studies are grouped in the book according to how they help companies achieve one of three strategic priorities:

  1. Meeting the challenge of uncommon organizational change.
  2. Setting competitive standards.
  3. Achieving organizational goals.

Overhauling the IRS
One example of uncommon organizational change was the massive restructuring of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service mandated by the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. The IRS's geographical structure - based on regional and district offices organized by functions such as auditing and collection - was scrapped in favor of a cross-functional structure organized by customer (large and midsize corporations, small businesses and individual taxpayers). The flattening of the agency's structure led to the reassignment of thousand of IRS employees into new jobs (thousands of other employees have been downsized).

The agency's training structure could not meet the subsequent spike in training needs. The IRS leaned on distance training programs, including interactive video teletraining (IVT) and online courses, to address this gap. For example, although the IRS had IVT programs in place since the 1980s, those programs increased by 1,750 percent in the six years between 1993 and 1999.

The case study by Teva Sheer, curriculum manager with the IRS's Learning and Education Organization, also describes how distance training is integrated into the strategic planning and implementation process launched by the agency overhaul.

Detailed and Timely
In addition to a detailed table of contents, all of the cases are charted in chapter one, allowing managers to quickly identify which cases will be most useful to them. The cases themselves are clearly structured to allow easy referencing. Comprehensive, detailed and timely, this book will be valuable to human resources professionals and strategic planners in companies of any size.