Software-based instruction allows companies to raise their employees' level of knowledge without requiring them to travel to seminars or fit college-level courses into their off hours.
Training software often incorporates images including video or animation, as well as sound, and it is typically interactive. Tests, simulations, real-world case studies, interactive questions and other features are all part of today's software, whether the student/employee is looking to achieve American Society for Quality (ASQ) certification, striving to earn a Six Sigma belt, or simply to understand the fundamentals of a quality management system.
E-learning takes flight
While training is vital, cost is a hurdle for many companies. That's one reason for the growing trend toward what is variously called e-learning, distance learning or computer-based training.
While e-learning software may sacrifice something in terms of personal interaction between students and instructors, one advantage is the flexibility it provides, enabling students to take training at their own pace on either home- or work-based computers. For many employers, a bigger attraction is the cost savings compared to traditional classroom-based training. Because employees are not required to attend off-site seminars, training expenses can be significantly reduced. Direct costs, such as travel, as well as indirect costs, such as lost productivity while employees are away, can be eliminated.
"Generally speaking, the biggest expense is in the time and cost of bringing employees to and from training sessions," says Mark Van Buren, Ph.D., director of research and enterprise solutions for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD, Alexandria, VA). "Many of those costs are saved through technology-based media."
According to the ASTD report, The 2002 ASTD International Comparisons Report, technology-based training increased to nearly 10% of all training in 2000, up from 8.8% in 1997. The lion's share of all training, however, is still classroom instruction.
The Boeing Co. (Chicago) is one of the companies that continually strives to bring training to employees, rather than the other way around. Boeing has worked with Click2Learn (Bellevue, WA), a company that offers drag and click training software, to document shop floor procedures, which were developed through years of on-the-job, real-world experience. Once captured, the knowledge is distributed throughout the organization via Boeing's Intranet system.
Earlier this year, Boeing and Plexus Corp. (St. Paul, MN) signed a joint development and licensing agreement to create a Web-based system that is meant to streamline employee training in quality standards and procedures.
The software is called "Quality eTraining" and will include modules of Web-based, CD-ROM and classroom training materials. The modules will be used to train Boeing employees in ISO quality standards, Advanced Quality Systems and the Boeing Quality Management Systems (BQMS). The initial development effort will focus on 10 training modules, which will include ISO9001: 2000/AS9100: 2001, AS90003, AS9103 and BQMS.
The eTraining software will be used not only by Boeing employees, but will also be distributed for use by the company's thousands of suppliers. "There has been a growing need to deliver consistent, high-quality standards training both quickly and affordably to a globally deployed workforce and its suppliers," says Tony Marino, who is the quality management project leader for Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems. "Our eTraining system is designed to meet that need."
Customization is also becoming more common in today's training software. Take the case of Air Academy Associates (Colorado Springs, CO), a training and consulting company that offers design of experiment, statistical process control, Six Sigma and lean manufacturing training software. In response to customer needs, says Chief Executive Officer Rick Murrow, Air Academy is partnering with Global Learning Systems (Bethesda, MD), an e-learning company, to offer blended solutions that combine e-learning with consulting.
This blending of self-directed learning and consulting is another growing trend, and an approach that is recommended by the ASTD. "More and more companies want customized solutions," Murrow notes. "They don't just want a course. They want it to fit with their operating system and their company."
There are many different types of quality training software; the majority of them focus on ISO, Six Sigma and lean manufacturing. As noted by Chuck Mitman, executive vice president of Prism eSolutions (Blue Bell, PA), in a story published last year (Quality, Nov. 2001, p. 46), poor training of employees is one of the reasons many companies fail to obtain ISO certification. For those companies, ISO training software can help solve the problem. It can also cut the documentation clutter by providing a template for organized, concise and easily updateable electronic documentation. According to Mitman, ISO 9000 support software programs give operators greater freedom when it comes to implementing and managing a quality management system. Software platforms offer access to ISO 9000 support and training from anywhere, anytime via the Internet.
As with ISO programs, many software companies offer Six Sigma training software. One such company, Six Sigma Academy (Scottsdale, AZ), launched in July a number of Six Sigma training classes. This includes the Web-based Six Sigma Awareness course and the Green Belt Blended Training, which is meant to train large numbers of Six Sigma Green Belts. The 80-hour blended Green Belt training course includes classroom instruction and 38 self-paced computer-based training sessions covering Six Sigma tools and fundamentals, as well as an in-depth study and analysis of the various phases of Six Sigma -- Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC). The computer-based training program uses Flash animation, practice and role playing exercises to test knowledge and simulate project management and videos of industry experts addressing common mistakes.
It just makes sense that the more skills a quality professional possesses, the more dollars and cents they can earn. Six Sigma Master Black Belts make more than Black Belts, who make more than Green Belts. Those workers who are certified by the ASQ tend to make more money than those who are not certified.
The ASQ's e-Learning Center has a series of self-directed learning programs including Quality 101, which is delivered via CD-ROM or the Web. The course is designed to introduce quality concepts and tools to employees unfamiliar with quality and to refresh the skills of those with some previous background in quality. The computer software includes a pretest, hundreds of practice questions, reinforcement activities and a post test. If the student receives 80% or higher on the post test, he or she can earn 1.5 continuing education unit credits. The estimated time to complete the course that covers quality fundamentals is 10 to 15 hours.
The ASQ also offers courses to help workers prepare for the Certified Quality Managers (CQM), Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) and Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) exams. The ASQ isn't the only source for these kinds of courses. Quality America (Tucson, AZ) offers practice exams on CD-ROM and via the Web for CQM, CQA and CQE, as well as for ASQ Certified Quality Technician, Certified Mechanical Inspector, Certified Reliability Engineer and Certified Quality Improvement Associate.
So if you want to become ASQ certified, or ISO literate, or super at Six Sigma, you have many options. You can book a seat at one of the many upcoming events, or you can grab a seat in your office or at home and take computer-based training at your own pace.
OTHER COMPUTER-BASED TRAINING
In addition to ISO, Six Sigma and other types of training software, employers can look to computer-based training as a way to cost-effectively educate their workers. Here is a brief rundown of some of those programs.
Tips for Effective E-Learning
In order to increase e-learning participation and satisfaction, it is recommended that organizations:
Source: E-Learning "If We Build It, Will They Come?" by the American Society of Training and Development and The Masie Center.