Monitoring computer-based training over computer networks
As time is becoming an ever more precious commodity in today's workplace, effective training is also taking on an increasingly important role, but finding the time to train today's workforce is becoming increasingly difficult. With employees in diverse locations across the country and across the world and some working from home, on the road or "hot-desking" we have to take a new approach to training. Fortunately computer-based training can solve many of the traditional problems such as the need to bring all trainees together in the same location at the same time. With today's sophisticated computer-based training applications motivated employees can train where they want, at home or at work, and when they want, at lunchtime or after work. However, there is also a basic legal and pedagogical requirement to record who has been trained and in what. This is very easy in a traditional training scenario, but much more difficult in today's training environments. This problem is currently the major obstacle to the widespread adoption of computer-based training, and looking for a solution to these problems was the aim of this research. This research began by investigating the processes used by multimedia developers when creating Computer Based Training (CBT) applications, identifying the current methodologies, techniques and tools that they use. Very quickly it was easy to see that developers use a whole range of development tools and that their expertise is primarily in the design of training applications, not in programming. Similarly the students want credit for the training that they undergo but do not want to be distracted by an intrusive monitoring system. The role of the Training Manager is equally important. He or she needs to be able to quickly assess the situation of an individual or a group of students and take remedial action where necessary. Balancing all of these needs in a single generic solution to the monitored training problem was the single biggest challenge. This research has addressed these important problems and has developed a solution that permits the monitoring of student training progress in any location and at any time in a way that is totally transparent to the user. The author integrates this additional functionality into a new or existing training through a drag-and-drop interface which is very easy to use, creating a monitoring experience which is totally transparent to the trainee and the Training Manager receives a summary database of student progress. Specifically the system uses a library of C++ functions that interface to Authorware, Director, Toolbook or a C++ application. The functions permit an author to open a monitoring database at the start of a training session and close it at the end. Whilst the database is open we can record any data that we require regarding student progress and performance. On closing the session the resulting database is sent to a central collation point using FTP. Students are identified automatically through their IP address, from their network login or ask them to logon to the training session manually. The system can write any database format that is required and if the network is unavailable when the session ends the database will be saved locally until the next training session. At the central collation point a specially written application takes the many databases created by individual training sessions and collates them into one large database that can be queried by the training manager. Small trials were initially performed with a prototype system at the collaborating company, CBL Technology Ltd, which in turn led to larger trials at both Cable and Wireless Communication PLC and the University of Huddersfield. In these trials authors of CBT applications found the system extremely easy to integrate into their applications and the training managers and course leaders responsible for training outcomes, found the feedback on student performance, that the system provided, invaluable. This research had demonstrated that it is possible to create a generic monitored training solution that balances the needs of the trainee, the author and the Training Manager. Trainees can train at any time, anywhere in the world, over the Internet or from CDROM and a training manager can monitor their progress provided that at some time they connect to a computer network.