Chambers’ advice: Keep the e-learning to 10 minutes

Big business and other organizations are only now getting to grips with e-learning and it may have been a mistake to embrace the technology as a salve to common training problems, according to a panel hosted by Cisco Systems Wednesday.


networking giant opened the NASDAQ virtually that morning from its headquarters in San Jose, Calif. – the first time the stock exchange has ever been opened outside New York City.

Cisco used the occasion as a platform to discuss the next generation of virtualization and Internet technology and convened a panel of experts from business, health-care, education and the media to discuss what’s going right and what still needs work.

E-learning, for example, is a technology that has been highly touted as a means to increase the reach of education to remote communities, train workers on how to get the most out of their desktop applications and allow college students to view lecture archives in they are unable to attend in person.

But too often it is seen as a replacement for teaching staff, said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, an organization of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools. “I’m highly skeptical” of that approach to e-learning, she said: it fails to engender any enthusiasm from school communities and is largely ineffective.

Schools should instead focus on slipping standards among students where even reading skills are sometimes lacking. “In today’s world, that should not be happening,” she said. A better application of the Internet in education would be to allow teachers to be able to benchmark their own students against national reading standards and compensate accordingly.

Cisco’s own CEO John Chambers admitted that the company’s own approach to e-learning has been wrong-headed in the past. Cisco uses the technology liberally for various educational purposes, but a broad approach often “fails miserably,” he said. “It was only once we changed the whole concept did employees start to use it.”

The most effective approach has been to dole out e-learning in pieces of about 10 to 12 minutes, he said, and forcing it on employees who are resistant to change just doesn’t work. “You’ve got to go to the groups that want to accept it,” he said, but most users become comfortable with the technology over time.

Internet technology and virtualization tools are still in their infancy, said Stratton Scalvos, CEO of VeriSign. “We’re in the first decade of having built this infrastructure out,” he said, indicating that the second decade will prove more productive. “The interactions are moving from physical to digital.”

Chambers agreed that the next decade of virtualization and distance applications will be more propitious than the first. With 10 years, he said, the majority of doctor’s visits could be conducted from a patient’s home though virtual technology.

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