Review: KiwiSkills gives good grounding - if you use Microsoft

Stephen Bell checks out the KiwiSkills course run by 2020 Communications Trust

KiwiSkills courses are aimed at that large army of computer users who have little technical knowledge. Now managed by the 2020 Communications Trust; they were brought into New Zealand by the NZ Computer Society (now the Institute of IT Professionals).

The courses are delivered interactively online, and current provider Enlight supports a web-based interface that uses the actual applications on the user’s machine rather than simulations, which can seem a little artificial.

The more advanced KiwiSkills courses lead to the International Computer Drivers’ Licence (ICDL) qualification.

After teaching the basics of navigating around a file and folder structure, the courses quickly focus on Microsoft Office applications.

“The demand in NZ is mainly Microsoft,” says manager Rebecca Magee; however, the ECDL Foundation – which runs ICDL in Europe – do provide ICDL in OpenOffice and other learning environments, catering to the needs of the market,” she says.

Most of the skills taught would work with little change in OpenOffice/Libre Office. Even someone like this reporter, who has been using Microsoft Office and Open Office for years will discover facilities that they have never had more than a vague awareness of before; many of these may prove useful and increase productivity.

The training modules are complemented by testing modules, which give you a quick fix on your current level of skills.

I haven’t done a mail-merge for a long time and messed up badly on the test for that. I improved my score with one pass through the training, but was still well short of complete competence and confidence; but then I’m never likely to need to do a mail-merge again. Knowing how to make text flow around a picture, on the other hand, I rate as a useful skill. The course provided enough impetus to strive at complete familiarity with that.

The training module lets you guess wrong answers then correct them without penalty (at the first wrong answer it advises you of the right one).

There should, perhaps, be some way of enforcing a repeat of course units on which there has been a high proportion of wrong answers.

The course naturally uses standard Microsoft jargon; the usefulness of knowing the correct answer to “identify the formatting toolbar” is debatable.

The online environment has its problems. It requires Java, which may not be available on a home or office machine, and some awkward manipulation is involved to allow popup windows to open when they should be allowed to and block them when they’re not. The logon procedure also sometimes failed for me for unknown reasons.

I’m not the intended audience for the KiwiSkills courses, but would recommend them for use by real beginners. I only hope some of that target group will be inspired by their new-found competence with Microsoft Office to look further afield.

The whole KiwiSkills syllabus can be completed in 40 hours at a cost of around $300 + GST, says the 2020 Trust – but it is angling for discount provision of the package as an element of work-readiness courses planned by the Ministry of Social Development.

See also Bid to get digital literarcy on MSD training scheme.

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