A small UK company is set to revolutionise workplace learning with software that utilises the power of computer networks to distribute and manage training programmes.
Arundel-based Futuremedia developed the product, called Solstra, in a joint project with BT. It provides a structured method for managing and delivering training programmes from other suppliers over computer networks, including the Internet.
Solstra is designed to handle information within computer networks connected by telephone modems, which are slow compared with more established video and CD-Rom based training.
The software delivers learning in manageable chunks of up to 15 minutes’ duration. The idea is that people can take learning breaks while still at their desks.
Solstra is built around the idea of a personal learning space that people develop and use to manage their learning requirements. These can include compulsory and voluntary subjects at varying levels of entry.
Closed-circuit e-mail allows people to identify and communicate with others involved in the same training programme, including trainers, and helps to promote a campus culture.
Group learning is encouraged through organised ‘virtual classrooms’.
Solstra is being tested by the Ford Motor Company and the Civil Service College. In the Ford trial, eight people are using Solstra for QS9000 quality awareness training.
Ford training manager Paul Pestell says Solstra is likely to be most effective when used with Microsoft Office-type packages.
‘People want the flexibility you can get at the desktop, and Web-based learning is a lot more flexible than learning in the classroom,’ says Pestell.
BT is also expected to become a customer for Solstra, making it available to all 12,000 workers worldwide.
With 4,000 items in its product portfolio, ranging from simple electrical connectors to sophisticated consumer products, and services such as the Internet, BT is a classic example of companies which have embraced ‘mass customisation’ methods to satisfy customer demand for choice. Such companies often find it a daunting task to keep sales engineers up to date with product changes.
Solstra will not replace classroom-based learning, according to Futuremedia managing director Mats Johansson. Where a member of staff needs more than 15 minutes’ learning and a quiet place, the software is not the answer, he says.
It does, however, solve the problem of version control, ensuring that only the latest release of a training product is being used.
Speed of delivery and low distribution costs are other benefits.
The Civil Service College trains many of the world’s civil servants and is trialling Solstra as a means of selling training services to overseas students.
BT, too, believes it will be able to use Solstra to develop new training services for corporate customers.