[INET'99] [ Up ][Prev][Next]

WBT: The New Millennium -- Training at the Speed of Change

Arana GREENBERG <aranag@earthlink.net>
Alpine Media Corporation


As we move into the new millennium, demand for technology-assisted training and education will increase at the same accelerated pace that "product" and "knowledge" life cycles are decreasing. Today, the product life cycle for developing a new computer chip from design to manufacture is less than nine calendar months. As products are developed in an international environment where speed dictates competitive edge, corporations and educational institutions will be forced into providing, maintaining, and updating new information that is timely and cost-effective. And they will have to provide this new knowledge at breakneck speed.

In recent years, technical concerns over WBT (Web-based Training and Testing) have dominated over sound pedagogical foundations. Breakthroughs in learning theory and scientific thought have been virtually neglected, while bandwidth limitations and browser issues have led WBT development. Most Web-based instructional and assessment materials are developed either by technophiles, or trained "instructional designers" who tend to develop learning products that show off the capabilities of the technology they have mastered. As a result, two types of educational approaches have emerged in the design of WBT systems: behaviorist and constructivist are viewed as competing pedagogical frameworks.

This presentation attempts to investigate the greater potential held by WBT. It posits that new millennium instructional systems will incorporate assessment and feedback at the core of the design process. Moreover, the future of WBT will be in designing hybrid instructional systems that will be:

In short, training and education will become COOL -- delivered faster, more effectively, and "just in time." By ensuring that feedback and assessment are at the core of an instructional strategy, we will move from "just in time" to "just enough" knowledge. In corporations, the training function will move from the Human Resources Department to part of an enterprise-wide strategy that incorporates management succession planning, self-development, new product knowledge, and the mission of the organization into a cohesive strategy. In education, learning will be lifelong, and the focus of instruction will be to provide knowledge that is tailored to the individual needs of the learner from K-postsecondary education.

A new economic model will guide the future of training, providing the "highest and best use" of knowledge to learners. All participants in a society will be viewed as learners, with the Internet providing the greatest access to all citizens. What then, is the present state of training and testing on the Internet?

This presentation will compare examples of the traditional behaviorist and constructivist approaches, and posit a new, hybrid approach to learning on the Web that

Exciting examples of "breakthrough" learning technologies will be presented, including:

All of these technologies are available today. All incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to WBT that uses teachers, learners, measurement scientists, and psychologists working in a team to develop instruction for public schools and for corporations. The purpose of the presentation is to showcase these developments and stimulate brainstorming among those responsible for designing and delivering WBT in the new millennium.



Merriam-Webster's New Dictionary defines the modern use of the word "cool" as "very good, excellent (first-class), fashionable." It is our belief that in the new millennium, "first class" training systems will increasingly use Web implementations to:

It is quite possible that much of what is presented as new and exciting as this presentation is prepared will be outdated in the next year. Thus, the focus of the presentation is on the historical evolution of technology-assisted training systems, and emphasizes the importance of planning and design in determining the components of technology-assisted training environments. Selected examples of what we believe constitute the "highest and best use" of the Web will be shown. It is the contention of this author that the new learning paradigms created with technology in the next five years will facilitate a new profession of technology planning - an interdisciplinary approach to creating learning environments that will revolutionize the way we learn, and more importantly, our attitudes toward learning.

About this time each year, International Data Corp. stretches beyond the strict numerical results of its surveys and research and predicts the years ahead. Again this year, IDC Senior Vice President for Internet Research Frank Gens doesn't disappoint. To paraphrase his comments from his IDC briefing on 1999 predictions, IDC expects Internet use and e-commerce to explode. By the end of 1999, Gens says there will be 167 million Internet users. That's more people on the Internet than the physical population of Japan or Russia (based on Encarta's 1997 population figures)!

By 2005, IDC predicts there will be a billion people communicating via the Internet. This represents a tremendous amount of opportunity to attract and hold new Internet users considering two-thirds of the Internet users who will be online by 2002 have yet to click on their first link.

The Internet, like other technologies, is becoming mainstream. As we see in Table 1, the character of Internet users will be changing as all technology is evolving, from the more tech-oriented community of the 1970s and 1980s to a mirror of society's mainstream. This has tremendous implications for our ability to revolutionize education and presents opportunities to ensure "access" to new skills to larger populations than ever before. As a professional who has developed technology-based training plans and products for more than 20 years, the Internet presents the most exciting opportunities we've seen to make a significant contribution to the way we learn.

Let's look at a quick historical overview of the way technology has been used over the past 30 years to provide a context for considering the new Learning Paradigm in the new millennium.

Table 1: Technology-Assisted Training -- A Simplified Historical Overview
Timeframe Technology Trends Organizational Location Learning Orientation Technology Delivery Issues
  • Mainframe (e.g., PLATO)
  • CBT
  • Centralized training facilities
  • Personnel Dept.
  • Programmer as developer
  • Objectivist Learning Orientation
  • High delivery costs
  • Limited access to technology
  • Content geared towards technical users
  • Re-training 3 years
  • Traditional teaching and testing models
  • Minicomputer
  • Distributed Computing (e.g., ILS)
  • Distributed training facilities
  • Training as personnel function
  • ISD as developer
  • Objectivist orientation
  • Moderate delivery costs
  • Broadened access to technology
  • Networks
  • Desktop PCs
  • LANs
  • Multimedia options
  • Training as HRD function
  • Author as developer
  • Desktop access
  • Technology-driven learning model
  • Web-enabled training systems
  • "Anywhere, anytime" learning
  • Training as OD function
  • Learner-driven development
  • SME as developer
  • Constructivist orientation
  • Low delivery costs
  • Ubiquitous computing
  • Consumer access
  • Re-training
  • 9 months
  • Learning Paradigm

The changing value of training

As we review the evolution of technology-assisted training options, we see that over the past 30 years, technology trends parallel social trends. The figure above shows the evolution of the cost of deploying training (decreasing with increasing technology capabilities), and more important, the social and economic importance of training for businesses and workers.

We live in fascinating times in which speed has impacted virtually all human activity. In 1999, John Grisham's book, The Testament, became a bestseller two full weeks before it hit the bookstores, thanks to the advanced ordering potential offered by Amazon.com. A woman watching the Academy Awards in April will be able to purchase copies of her favorite designer dresses literally two weeks after the broadcast at her local mall. Certification programs for skilled workers in the information technology industry must now be updated yearly to keep up with changing technology. How do we train effectively when speed has become a critical variable?

This presentation does not intend to provide an answer to this question, but merely to identify the context in which we can use technology to facilitate training, and provide examples of some exciting new ways the Internet is being used in training today. We hope to provide ideas that will inspire you to participate in creating new types of learning opportunities in the future.

As the increasing pace of technological breakthroughs over the past 30 years has made technology more "accessible" to increasingly savvy consumers, the value of training has also increased. Originally the domain of the personnel department in organizations, training has evolved to a position that is directly linked to all functions of the enterprise. Training has moved from an organizational "overhead" cost on the corporate balance sheet to a marketable commodity with clearly defined revenue streams within and across industries. Yesterday's staff trainer has become today's chief learning officer. Originally seen as a necessary "cost of doing business," training today and in the new millennium is inextricably linked to an organization's competitive edge and to its ability to recruit and maintain employees.

As we can see from table 1, several key trends can be identified:

Lou Gerstner, in USA Today (2/8/99) estimates the value of the information training industry alone will be over $13 trillion by the year 2000. As you all know, there is a critical shortage of information technology workers today. In 1998, in a White Paper for a client, we reported an estimated 500,000 information technology jobs would go unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. In February, 1999, Cisco Systems CEO anticipates that there will be 1.8 million direct high technology positions opening up in the next five years. We see technology-enhanced training as the only way to begin to tackle this issue of educating our future workforce.

Evolution of technology use in training

In the late 1960s, Mr. William C. Norris was one of the first corporate visionaries to see how technology might impact the everyday lives of all workers. As CEO of Control Data Corporation, he invested over $1B in corporate resources on developing the PLATO system, despite the fact that he received sharp criticism in the corporate world for this investment. In the 1970s, Norris wrote a series of monographs, urging CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations to put aside an annual percentage of corporate profits into employee re-training efforts. The world was changing; lifelong employment was no longer guaranteed, company towns would become obsolete, and workers would have to be re-trained at regular three to five year intervals several times in their careers to keep up with technology's impact on the workplace. His notion of re-training was way ahead of its time. However, the three-year re-training cycle is obsolete. In a meeting with Intel Corporation executives last year, we learned the time to design and develop a new computer chip has been reduced to less than nine months. Colleagues at Microsoft are feeling the same pressure in the software industry. The pressure is on to innovate new ways to train at the speed of change.

Mainframe learning environments have evolved from the physical and intellectual isolation of corporate and university MIS departments to portable "information appliances" used during most of our waking hours. We have moved from the traditional instructor-led training models to the new learning paradigm that involves the learner actively engaged in the process.

The rapid developments in multimedia technologies during the 1980s has resulted in a tremendous increase in the variety of learning resources available to the instructor and to the learner. These developments are akin to the revolution brought about by the Gutenberg press, and continue to impact the way we learn. In the mid-1980s, for the first time in history, school districts included educational CD-ROM and videodisc products as part of their textbook adoption strategies. Today, it is reported that over 75% of all college students use the Web for their school-based research.

Technology is so well integrated into every aspect of our lives, that it has finally become an "enabler" rather than a "driver" of the new learning paradigm.

The new training paradigm: from objectivism to constructivism

In the 1970s, CBT, or Computer-Based Training systems, were seen as a way to standardize traditionally delivered instructor-based training. The Training Paradigm was objectivist in orientation, and the computer was seen as the "Instructor in a Box," delivering lecture-based instruction and what we have come to characterize as "drill and kill" learning. Through a series of modules that focused on drill and practice to master the material presented, the learner "absorbed" the material delivered by the computer-based system. The objectivist instructional orientation emphasizes objective assessment and assignments, lecturing to communicate the material, uses pre-selected text and materials, uses instructor prepared materials and a sequenced curriculum, and a grading system for assessment. Since this is the method of how most present education is delivered, the objectivist orientation is a matter of putting the current teaching process online. This traditional method of delivering instruction prevails in most technology-assisted learning environments, including distance learning programs.

Perhaps the single most innovative aspect of integrating the Web into the training process is the emergence of a "constructivist" approach to learning new material. Constructivist models emphasize the instructor as facilitator, and focus on constructing assessment and assignments during the learning process. This begins with a learner-centered design and directs discussion through questions and group communication. The instructor's job is to provide guidance, suggest possible resources, field questions, and use outside experts for particular learning tasks. Assessment is focused on the process of collaboration and the product of authentic materials. The introduction of the Web as an enabling technology for learning has allowed this approach to learning to capture the hearts and minds of academics and corporate trainers.

Table 2: Evolution of Technology-Enhanced Learning Orientations


  • Theoretical underpinning: Behavioral psychology (B.F. Skinner)
  • Psychology is based on observable behavior
  • Behavior is determined by outcomes/consequences
  • Knowledge is manifested in behavior (correct answers)

Learning Orientation

  • Content presentation
  • Question is put to student
  • Student is told if answer is right
  • Positive reinforcement for right answers
  • Cycle is repeated for wrong answers
  • External truths and knowledge exists for learners to memorize
  • Teacher control
  • Progress from general to specific
  • Students learn meaning


  • Theoretical underpinning: Cognitive Psychology
  • Learner as active processor of information (computer-based model).
  • Emphasis on internal mental states
  • Considers perspective, learning style and knowledge of learner

Learning Orientation

  • Encourage knowledge formation
  • Process is different for each student
  • Self-directed exploration
  • Discovery learning
  • Construction of concepts, schema, and mental models
  • Truth and knowledge is constructed by students based on perspective and experience
  • Teacher observes, coaches, and facilitates
  • Progress from specific to general
  • Students create meaning

Much of this first computer-based courseware was designed to be stand-alone and self-functioning, with little or no expert (i.e., human) intervention.. One of the pioneers in computer-based education was Dr. B.F. Skinner at Harvard University. His behaviorist philosophy helped form the development and design of these first learning machines. Many of Skinner's initial notions of stimulus and feedback responses are still in practice today.

These early forms of computer-aided instruction (CAI) often centered around tasks that produced easily quantifiable errors, like exams, which could be analyzed by the computer system and corrected quite quickly. Content was seen as a stimulus that produced desirable behavioral changes (i.e., learning) in the student-user. It was thought that given enough iterations, students would eventually make no more errors, and, hence "know" all there is about the information contained within the computer program.

To understand the fundamental difference between these perspectives reflects fundamental differences in:

Instead of focusing on training individuals, the goal now is to educate students and help them learn better. With this shift from giving information to the passive student sitting on the other side of the screen, to engaging the student in becoming a part of the learning environment, the entire concept of online learning and design has been altered.

Constructivism is an alternative epistemology of how people learn and assimilate new knowledge. Humans are active, knowledge-searching creatures that transform and interpret experience using developed biological and mental structures. They assimilate new knowledge by producing cognitive structures that are similar to the experiences they are engaged in. They then accommodate themselves to these newly developed knowledge structures and use them within their collection of experiences as they continue to interact with the environment (Piaget, 1977).

Knowledge is not separate from but rather embedded within experiences and interpreted by the learner. Knowledge then is about interpretation, and making meaning of the environment. In other words, though we may more or less share one reality, each of us conceives of it in different ways based on our prior experiences, belief structures, and perspective. To learn, therefore, is to communicate and demonstrate your understanding of the world.

From this view, interpretation constructivism can include different types of knowledge construction than rote memorization of factual knowledge or procedures. The goal for the learner is to build, or re-invent knowledge. Ordering and re-ordering knowledge, testing it out, and justifying this interpretation are the underlying principles of constructivist practices (McClintock and Black, 1995).

It is not the goal here to provide a complete understanding of these approaches. We view these not as competing instructional methodologies, but rather an evolutionary progression in the development of Web-enabled training environments. In general, objectivist methods stress presentation of content and replication by the students. Students are characterized as information-receivers and teachers (or programs) as the information-givers. Constructivism, on the other hand, emphasizes the interpretation and creation of knowledge. Students are active, self-directed, and the aim of teachers (or programs) is to help foster the students' process of individual discovery of knowledge.

It is this author's firm belief that training systems in the future will succeed only if they enable the learner to learn better. Information and knowledge is changing at such a rapid rate that the constructivist approach will increasingly be the methodology of choice as we train at the speed of change.

Role of the instructor

In the past 30 years, the role of the instructor has moved from being the physically and intellectually isolated "ivory tower" researcher, to the "sage on the stage," and will continue to evolve as the "guide on the side." As information continues to grow exponentially, educators and corporate training will rely less on their domain of expertise in a field, and more on higher order management and coaching skills.

This evolution has been particularly dramatic in business. In the 1960s, teaching and training models were based on our industrial model of education, geared toward training the elite few for high-level jobs while the majority of the public would serve society by filling jobs on the proverbial "factory floor." As Allison Rosset, from San Diego State University so aptly puts it, organizational development and training were traditionally "separated at birth." Today and into the new millennium, decreasing product life cycles, increasing re-training needs, and changes in the technology and information impact business will create new professional roles in technology planning, infrastructure development, and mentorship in organizations.

Moreover, current research conducted at Vanderbilt University shows that time shifts will occur in the way traditional instructors do their jobs, as technology is used in the education process:

Table 3: Analysis of Time Shifts in Instructional Activities*
Activity 1998 2003
Course Architect 12% 12%
Course Navigator 15% 5%
Lecture 40% 15%
Mentor 10% 50%
Testing 23% 18%

*From John Bourne, "Analysis of Time Shifts in Faculty Activities," 1998.

The new learning paradigm

As we have seen, the new learning paradigm must incorporate multiple technologies and information sources. As the amount of information overload increases, how will the training systems of the future be created? It is impossible to imagine training systems of the future without using the Internet to enhance learning in these fundamental ways:

Figure 1 provides a model of what this author feels the new technology-assisted training environments will look like. Unlike the traditional CBT environments, the new training systems will evolve from being "individualized" to "personalized," and will focus on training individuals how to learn more effectively. These training solutions will be hybrid solutions, employing multiple technologies to produce and rapidly deploy high-quality training. Most important, they will shift towards a model that increasingly provides opportunities to learn from others.

Figure 1. Web-Enabled Learning Components

What we are attempting to show in this figure is the way in which the elements of COOL training are synchronized to form a complete training system. Properly planned and designed, this new learning paradigm can be viewed as:

Examples of the new learning paradigm

We will now turn to four examples of products today that embody what we believe to use specific strengths of the Internet to reinforce this new learning paradigm.

Example 1: managing information for the new learning paradigm

Alpine Media Corporation is working with a new, Web-based management system that we believe will revolutionize the management of an increasing number of learning resources (online and offline) in training systems. Developed in Java, this system will manage all learning resources and update these resources automatically from a "virtual" server. The system is scalable to accommodate thousands of users in multiple locations from a single point of control. Multiple levels of system security allow for the delivery of training materials, storage of student records, and comprehensive reporting capability. Designed for access by the instructor, student, and administrator, this innovative system will revolutionize the way we manage training and instruction. We are currently working with the developers of this system to add an assessment component, so that actual prescription and diagnosis of skills can extend the functionality of the system.

Example 2: online self assessment tool

Two years ago, Alpine Media Corporation was commissioned by the Skills 2000 group to develop an online assessment for people who might consider a career change to the information technology industry. The self-assessmnt tool rates the potential fit between the user and eight skill set categories developed by Southwest Regional Laboratories that represent the industry. The tool was funded by Microsoft Corporation and was developed by Alpine Media Corporation psychometricians within eight weeks. The response to this tool, which is offered free on the Skills 2000 Web site, has been enormous: the governor of the State of Washington gave an Award of Merit to Microsoft for its contribution to the workforce; the tool is being used throughout the European Union; and we understand that an average of 25,000 people each month are accessing the Web site and taking this aptitude tool. This is a small example of the enormous impact assessment will play in Web-enhanced learning environments.

Example 3: Web-enhanced CD-ROM applications

Three years ago, Alpine Media Corporation was hired to develop software to complement a widely sold book entitled Profiles of American Colleges. The book profiles over 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States and assists students in researching schools and developing their applications. By designing the product with "hot buttons" to URLs of each college site, the costs associated with updating the software were significantly reduced, and students have timely, up-to-date information on colleges of interest. This example of Web-enhanced products is a cost-effective way to use the strengths of two technologies within a single product.

Example 4: iLearn system

iLearn is a Web-based system that exemplifies the trend towards constructivism in instructional design. It is a system designed to provide the learner with a questionnaire that provides feedback on the learner's personal learning style (in this framework, a learner is either a "conforming," "performing," or "intentional" learner). Research in distance education has shown that success in online programs is highly correlated with the learner's ability to discipline his or her learning time. The iLearn system is designed to coach the learner from conforming to the minimum requirements of the learning task to becoming a motivated, "intentional" learner. Studies in learner motivation, learning styles, and thinking skills will be an important contribution to the development of future Web-enabled learning environments.


Arana J. Greenberg is president and CEO of Alpine Media Corporation, headquartered in Orem, Utah. Ms. Greenberg received her master's degree and studied for her doctoral work in the field of international social policy development at UCLA. She has devoted her professional career to developing innovative education and training tools using technology as a delivery vehicle. Corporate experience includes work with Control Data Corporation, Wicat Systems, Microsoft Corporation, and consulting work with the William C. Norris Institute, the United States Air Force Academy, and Educational Testing Systems. In 1991, she spearheaded a joint software development effort between Educational Testing Service and the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Six years ago, she and two of her consulting clients founded the Institute for Computer Uses in Education/Evaluation, known today as Alpine Media Corporation. Ms. Greenberg currently serves as vice chair for the Certification and Licensure Division of the Association of Test Publishers in Washington, D.C. In 1998, the Association of Test Publishers launched an effort to develop a set of information technology certification guidelines developed by leaders in the Information Technology (IT) field including Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Sylvan Learning, VUE, Lotus, The Chauncy Group, and many others. These guidelines will supplement APA and NCME standards and are scheduled for publication in the fall of 1999. In 1998, Ms. Greenberg was recognized in Who's Who in Information Technology.

The mission of AMC is to provide corporations and educational institutions with innovative, technology-based tools to improve knowledge and performance in the new millennium. The company develops multimedia products and provides consulting services in three areas:

[INET'99] [ Up ][Prev][Next]