Smart Training

Published Date
01 - Jul - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jul - 2007
 
Smart Training


Tired of seeing your trainees dozing off at training sessions? Maybe you're going about it the wrong way. Here's presenting some radical new ways to impart training


In most organisations, training is usually one-sided: you have a trainer teaching a skill-set the company deems important, while most participants happily dream of quitting time and martinis. Fortunately, there is a quiet revolution taking place. Companies are exploring innovative ways to make training interesting, which means value for the money they spend on training.

Avatar Training
Traditionally, we have always had human trainers teaching a class. These days, however, avatars are assuming the role of imaginary coaches, co-workers, or customers in computer-based training modules designed to teach specific skills.

An avatar is a computer-generated simulation of humans that may be photo-realistic, or a cartoon character with head-and-shoulder views that come and go as the computer-based training module runs its course.

The Advantages
Avatar-based training can pool in all the resources and experience of human trainers and deliver an identical training session every time, thereby ensuring the optimal training experience in every session-something even the most experienced trainers are not capable of achieving. Another advantage of avatar-based training is that the training module can be run at the convenience of the trainee's time, and can be viewed over and over for reinforcement. The training can also be used in large organisations, where employees are scattered across continents.

Accenture is developing various avatar-based training modules, and recently deployed one at British Telecom, the UK's largest telecommunications provider. The programme helped train 4,500 salespeople in just four weeks, as opposed to the eight weeks a traditional training program would have taken. Then, a training module developed for NASA allows the trainee to observe living and working conditions in the polar regions of Mars, with an avatar explaining various details of the conditions on-screen.

Avatars can be made to identify with the trainees, in terms of ethnicity and age-so soldiers can be trained by a military avatar, and a younger audience can have a teenage avatar. With powerful off-the-shelf graphics technology available, military and space exploration training avatars move and look a lot more realistic than ever before. However, animating an entire training module could cost anywhere between Rs 50,000 and lakhs of rupees right now. With an increased demand for these services, however, costs should fall rapidly.


Avatar-based training is touted to be the future


Simulated Training
Most of us have played or heard of The Sims, a computer game that allows a gamer to create virtual characters that interact amongst themselves to reach a common goal. As if giving credence to its fun factor and its popularity (it remains the largest-selling PC game of all time), companies are gradually looking at simulated approaches to creating training modules, wherein participants enter a virtual world to learn skill-sets with a replica of themselves interacting with other participants to perform a certain task or objective.


A scene from the very popular The Sims 2


A recent IBM study found that 56 per cent of customers lacked the skills to combining IT technical understanding with business process acumen. (IBM refers to this as "T"-skills). Based on this data, they have designed a 3D educational game simulator, called Innov8, which bridges the gap between IT engineers and business leaders in an organisation.

Innov8
The Innov8 simulation gives the participant the feeling of playing a game, but also teaches events or processes such as business operations. It has proved to be a very successful method of retraining or developing new skill sets. The game is played with a joystick controller and allows participants to visualise how an end-product will function in the customer's organisation. While playing the game, participants can literally see how the business processes will function, identify bottlenecks, and explore alternative scenarios before the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is deployed.

Companies are gradually looking at simulated approaches
to creating training modules


Naveen Gupta, VP, technical sales and support, Software Group, IBM India, says, "Innov8 is a reflection of the way people learn today-it's got to be interactive, visual and fun.  At the end of the game, players are assessed with a score on how well they did, so it's competitive as well."

Innov8 is a prototype right now-IBM expects the final version to be completed by September 2007. IBM plans, when it is ready, to deploy the platform over a wide array of industry sectors. It predicts that Innov8 could be used to train middle- or top-level management on Business Process Management and SOA concepts. It can also be used in Higher Education to assist students develop T-shaped skills, thereby making them better managers.


Visual role-playing in training helps build skill-sets faster


Since it is a game, Innov8 is extremely interactive. Players must achieve certain tasks before they can get to the next level. Completing each task gives them a better understanding of business processes. In the future, IBM plans to make online versions for gaming environments such as Second Life, where trainees can participate simultaneously in one session from all across the world. IBM plans to release Innov8 as a free download, so anyone can start playing.

Networking Magic
Another method large organisations are employing is to network their teams working in various parts of the world for better communication during product development. As a result of this networking, skill-sets across various teams and geographic locations can be honed and shared by all teams across the board.

Jazz (www.jazz.net), a joint project between IBM Rational and IBM Research, is designed to build an "open-commercial community" platform that is scalable and extensible based on project requirements, and helps programmers seamlessly integrate tasks across the software lifecycle. In simple words, Jazz allows programmers to build software more effectively while making the entire process of developing software more fun!

How Jazz Works
Most code written for a project is tagged with an author's name using Jazz. It's easy to identify which programmer needs assistance: all code can be viewed in real-time by all the teams involved in the project. Once the author is identified, he can be put through a training module to improve the skill-sets he lacks. The training thus happens in real-time. Jazz also integrates messaging protocols into the platform, thereby enabling easy communication between teams.

Since Jazz is in its early stages right now, access to it is only open to employees of IBM Rational's customers and partners, and a few select others by invitation. The final release date for the platform is yet to be announced.

In the future, IBM plans to use Jazz internally to regulate its own software development lifecycle. It also plans to take a community approach to building various plugins and enhancements for Jazz, so as to make it universally usable, and not just restricted to customers in the IT sector.

Online Virtual Simulations
The popularity of online virtual worlds like Second Life (www.secondlife.com) has opened up an unforeseen avenue for training. Increasingly, a large number of corporate businesses are harnessing this avenue to open shop online.

Companies could start using Second Life as a testing
ground for employees-monitoring their selling or
running of the business to see how they perform


Second Life is a virtual world-a 3D space on the Internet totally created and evolved by its users. The inbuilt content creation tools let you make almost anything you can imagine, in real-time or in collaboration with others. Second Life uses Linden dollars, a form of currency, which can be bought with real-world money. The ability to design and resell 3D content, be it virtual land plots or digital art, etc., means you can build a real business entirely within Second Life.

Training?
Companies have already started harnessing Second Life to advertise their products and showcase their content on their individual islands there, but what could be done in the future is use Second Life as a training medium to impart skill-sets to a wide audience from varied geographic locations. Alternatively, companies could start using Second Life as a testing ground for employees-monitoring their selling or running of the business to see how they perform in the virtual world, before giving them a promotion that would see them doing the same in the real world.


A scene from Second Life


Using Second Life as a lower-cost testing ground could see venture capitalists trying out new business ideas online instead of risking large sums of real money. Perhaps we're not too far away from the day when senior management interviews would consist of a three-month tryout period in Second Life.

Feasibility
As of today, there are only a few pioneering companies leasing out their virtual land to conduct goal-specific training for corporate trainees. Not many companies in India are delving into the virtual world for a variety of reasons. Paramount among them is the prohibitive costs of high-speed Internet access, which is required when playing any online virtual simulation game. Currently, avatar training holds the most promise, but with time and "free" or cheaper broadband, who knows... Perhaps the time is ripe for the pioneers amongst you to invest in a "Second Life Employee Training Corporation."



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