Discussion Papers

Cornelia Fries

Learner Needs and Demands in Multimedia Teletraining
Nr. 155 / Dezember 1995

Summary

European companies are faced with the challenge to satisfy increasing training demands with limited trainer capacities and, at the same time, to reduce costs in the training sector. Teletraining is a promising form of corporate training, that provides the possibility to train a high number of employees just-in-time, near their workplace and at low costs by connecting course participants and tutors via telecommunications net-works and enabling them to communicate independent of time and place.

The European Union (DG XIII) funded a broad range of projects in its research and development programme DELTA (1992 - 1995) to develop technical and conceptual solutions for telematic based learning and to test them under realistic market conditions. The "Multimedia Teleschool" (MTS) project was the largest of these market oriented projects, and was evaluated by WIK, in cooperation with a research group from the Polytechnical University of Madrid, under several aspects. This report summarises the findings of the acceptance evaluation, using data from the MTS-language courses with nearly 300 participants from different companies in 8 European countries. The MTS teletraining courses were mainly based on self-study with traditional print and audio media, and on text-based computer conferencing. This was completed by interactive TV broadcasts, with live-feedback from the remote learning sites e.g. via video-conferencing connections.

The evaluation findings show that the challenges of teletraining are often underestimated by the employees as well as by their companies. In addition to learning, the participants have to cope with technical and organisational start-up problems, they have to get familiar with new learning technologies and they have to integrate their learning activities into their daily working schedule. Nevertheless, the learners were very interested and motivated to use the innovative learning technologies.

Time constraints, because of the parallel learning and work activities, showed to be the main problem for successful course participation. The majority of the learners decided to shift most of their learning activities into their leisure time. The results indicate, that the teletraining learners valued flexibility higher than interactivity and tended to prefer isolated self-learning with individual tutor support to intensive and time-consuming group and collaborative learning, when confronted with a limited time budget. Flexibility and individual tutoring were perceived as the major profits of the teletraining courses by the participants.

In the conferencing system as well as in the interactive TV programmes, the majority of the teletraining participants tended to passive behaviour and had to be encouraged to take over a more active role in the course. Although the level of participation was limited in the MTS language courses, the findings show that the participants, after some exercising and practice, are able to develop new and adequate communication skills for the use of telematic technologies in further training. With an adequate time schedule and some support by tutors and coordinators, they perceive a benefit from flexibility as well as from group and intercultural communication.

The evaluation results in the MTS project show, that there is no optimal teletraining scenario with an optimal technology configuration. The success and the accpetance of teletraining depends on whether learning technology is implemented in a supportive and flexible learning environment, that is responsive to the participants' needs and abilities. The majority of the learners still regards face-to-face training (individually or in groups) as the optimal training method - especially for language training - that cannot be substituted by teletraining. However, when the learners are supported by an ade-quate learning scenario that allows them to profit from flexible learning and to adapt the course to their individual needs, it is accepted as valuable - and often preferable - alternative.

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