Column: How to build an appropriate Internet training programme

The Internet can be intimidating for first-time users, especially if their company has mandated that staff use email and the World Wide Web as part of their day-to-day routine.

The Internet can be intimidating for first- time users, especially if their company has mandated that staff use email and the World Wide Web as part of their day-to-day routine.

Prosaic issues such as logging on, opening and operating software programmes and closing the connection, as well as the more ephemeral challenges of appropriate use and search techniques, have to be addressed head on, otherwise the Internet will be seen as just another corporate boondoggle. And the way to bring staff up to speed is through a training programme.

The first step in developing a training programme is to identify who needs what skills. Part of that entails looking at what services are available to which people.

The actual training on how to operate the most popular email and Web browser software shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours and is probably best done in house. The IS staff can usually show people how to access and use the software. IS staff have experience in documenting and training users on the company LAN as well. For the casual office user, sending and receiving email is no trouble. If a staff member can operate a computer, chances are they can pick up email pretty easily. The issue of appropriate use is another story.

Intra-office electronic communication tends to be informal--messages between workmates usually have a lot of typos and often contain gossip and/or candid opinions. Email from the company to external recipients carries the same gravity as a signed letter on company letterhead. Typos and candid opinions are clearly inappropriate, yet since the medium is the same as the informal office communication, it is easy to forget. Appropriate use must be clearly spelled out and ingrained into the staff, preferably by someone higher up in the organisation.

The World Wide Web is another story. Again, the basic functions of either Netscape Navigator of Microsoft Explorer are quite easy: it is point and click. And appropriate use is fairly cut and dried--only surf the Web for company-related work. But understanding how the Web is structured and how to use it effectively are not skills in great supply in most companies. This is where external training might reasonably be used.

There are a variety of training options for corporates looking to upskill key staff in the effective use of the World Wide Web. There are the large training groups, such as Auldhouse and Ace, that offer a range of courses on using the Internet. Then there are a raft of one- and two-day seminars that provide background and training on a variety of Internet-related issues. And many of the internet service providers offer regularly scheduled training sessions. Plus there are independent consultants who specialise in customised training programmes individually designed for specific clients.

Each of these services has its place. Hands-on training is best for showing staff the basics of email and Web browsing, which means that if your company does not have training facilities, going for an outside training session makes great sense. Appropriate-use training should best be done in house and is not necessarily hands-on.

And for intensive World Wide Web training, the best bet is to find someone who really understands the technology. The Web changes so fast that organisations that use “canned” presentations are usually behind the 8-ball. One shudders to see people still training on Mosaic. This is where ISP or consultant-based training is most appropriate as they keep up with the play. They can tailor their materials for your specific needs.

There are a number of training options. The basics for operating the software can be done very well by any number of third-party training courses at their premises. Appropriate-use, an important component of any Internet training programme, should be best taught in-house. And intensive WWW training for selected staff members should best be done by knowledgeable experts who are up to speed on the latest techniques.

(Parent is an Internet consultant at Creative Data. He can be contacted by email at pjp@iprolink.co.nz or via Creative Data’s Web page at http://www.cd.co.nz/cd.)

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