The Communication Project Logo

The Communication Project, Inc.
2601 Wyoming Blvd NE #204, Albuquerque, NM 87112
(505) 332-9244 ▪ Fax: (505) 332-9038

Communication Project Magazine

Volume 2.1 Spring 1998

Web-Based Distance Learning: Tool for Change

Bob Clyatt
©1998 The Communication Project, Inc.


[1] Managing change and growth has never been easy. Today's organizations may have new and more challenging change to master, but they also have a powerful new set of technologies to help them cope. The rapid rise of the Internet and corporate intranets, widely accessible and built around standard, inexpensive platforms, offers a powerful response to organizations' change and learning needs. While it may take years to achieve the grand visions of a completely wired and internetworked society, these technologies can be put to work today performing many high-value tasks in corporate training communications. This paper defines advanced Web-Based Distance Learning (WBDL), looks at some of its benefits, offers suggestions for appropriate application of WBDL, and shares scenarios of ways organizations are beginning to put WBDL to work.

  1. Web-Based Distance Learning: What is it, and how will it help?
  2. Ensuring the Right Fit
  3. Web-Based Distance Learning Application Scenarios
  4. Conclusion

1. Web-Based Distance Learning: What is it, and how will it help?

[2] Taken at its highest level, distance learning can encompass any technology from a print correspondence course to a mailed videotape or CD-ROM. But the most interesting opportunities, we believe, center around the growing use of the Web, both internal and public, to provide a new generation of distance learning tools. Typically, these advanced WBDL products and services are defined by:

[3] WBDL systems as outlined above offer a cornucopia of long-sought benefits to today's global corporations:

[Back to Top]

2. Ensuring the Right Fit

[4] Having listed all these benefits, it is worth noting that Web-based training is not appropriate for all needs. In general, training needs which roughly match the following outline are good fits for current state-of-the-art WBDL applications.

[5] Asymmetrical information relationships. Much as in a live standup presentation, the presenter has advanced knowledge or expertise which needs to be transferred to a group of colleagues. Because the Web excels at interactivity, students can easily ask questions or pursue individual areas of interest with the instructor to help better grasp the material, just as in a traditional classroom.

[6] Spoken voice and visual information add meaning. Basic Web sites can be put up on a corporate intranet; however, these are the digital equivalent of sending a memo. What is needed to capture the full potential of the technology is a presentation where the expert's voice and discussion are able to bring an extra dimension of learning and attention which is not possible with information pages alone. Further, rich visual information, including dynamic, interactive, or personalized lookups of individual case detail, are easy to implement in Web-based training, and provide a marked advantage over conference calls, memos, or even live presentations.

[7] Timely and mutable information. With static course information, instructors may be able to justify the expense and time of developing a rich, portable set of print, video, or even CBT interactive materials, since the training materials can be assured a useful life over which to amortize their development costs. Rapidly evolving product, market or other internal communications are excellent candidates for WBDL, due to their simplicity and economy of production or ongoing modification, and their speed and economy of dissemination. This timely, "disposable" training is often just what is needed to get a product launched or a new service initiative on its feet.

[8] Tests and evaluation. While quizzing may not be important to every successful Web-based training program, if evaluation is important, Web-based training offers clear benefits. The nature of the technology makes it easy to produce tests, then record and analyze scores. This can be particularly important when the courses are used to satisfy compliance with federal or state regulations. Students' access is password restricted, and activity and responses are easily recorded and recalled for later compliance purposes.

[9] Geographically dispersed audience. Web-based training offers valuable benefits to anyone wishing simply to "time-shift" training even while working in a central location where face-to-face meetings might still be practical. However, the benefits of Web-based training become especially evident once learners are geographically dispersed. Cost, scheduling, time spent away from work traveling to and from training centers -- all conspire to make in situ training an expensive, cumbersome process. We believe in-person training requiring travel will gradually come to be viewed as an expensive and carefully considered investment, used principally for the sorts of complex, collaborative, personal development skills and growth activities which are only really possible through face-to-face interaction. Highly interactive and realistic Web-based training will begin to pick up many of the remaining training tasks now performed not only in training departments, but also in a wide variety of day-to-day internal communications throughout the organization.

[Back to Top]

3. Web-Based Distance Learning Application Scenarios

[10] Rapid Updates. A Product Manager for a complex financial calculation software package must keep sales, field, and phone support staff up-to-date on software fixes, new calculation models, and answers to new questions that clients are asking. Normally these changes were aggregated and explained in semi-annual classroom training sessions, but that often left uncomfortable gaps after problems arose and before training could be scheduled. Using WBDL, she can give more frequent updates, solicit plenty of user discussion, and allow field service staff to feel much more confident when discussing new versions of the product with clients.

[11] Compliance. A financial industry training manager, facing cutbacks in headcount for trainers and growing resistance from line managers to release staff and cover their travel expenses to centralized training courses, finds that WBDL answers these needs simultaneously. As the company is in the finance industry, government compliance regulations require specific, documented evidence of staff participation in certain courses. Staff can take Horizon courses from home via the Internet, where they answer quiz questions and prove their attendance in a way that the current CBT and video take-home courses cannot. Instructors give the course once and archive it for repeated student use, making for a very low-cost production. Students get needed training and updates with minimal time away from ongoing duties and no travel costs.

[12] Training Clients. A major corporation, after installing new equipment in client sites, wishes to offer clients WBDL rather than sending field staff out every time for in-person training. Though some new clients will still prefer the "face-to-face" and be willing to let the machine sit idle until the trainer can arrive, others would rather attend one of the twice-daily WBDL courses offered by the company's best trainers. They can get personal, live answers to the questions, and be up and running that first day.

[13] Continuing Education. A major training provider affiliated with a national professional association plans to incorporate WBDL into its menu of course options. Especially popular for keeping up with new developments in specialty areas of their profession, WBDL courses can provide these professionals the right combination of instructor-led discussion and visual material. Furthermore, these professionals are keenly aware of the cost savings to them of taking the course at their desk, and not having to close their offices to attend these state-mandated courses.

[Back to Top]

4. Conclusion

[14] WBDL can make a strong contribution to corporate training efforts, especially when using some of the most advanced technology which allows live voice and live questions or responses from learners. WBDL benefits include rapid course development, rapid dissemination, flexible scheduling, lower costs, and more efficient use of expert or trainer time. Although users must be wired to the Internet or corporate intranet, this is rapidly becoming a non-issue. The biggest challenge is to match the appropriate types of learning to the WBDL opportunity, harnessing its intrinsic merits together with knowledgeable instructional design.

[Back to Top]

About the Author

Bob Clyatt is founder and CEO of Horizon Live Distance Learning, providers of advanced WBDL software and services. He can be reached at

Click here to learn more about Horizon Live Distance Learning and to view a demonstration.

[Back to Top] | [Communication Project Magazine] | [Contact Us]

© 1998 The Communication Project, Inc.   All rights reserved.  Reproduction of this document in any form wpimaut prior written permission is forbidden.