Boston Broadside
November/December 2001
Vol. 59,  No. 2
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2001

Event Report

Interchange Keynote Presentation:

By Bill Gruener

  Interchange luncheon
  Interchange luncheon

Margaret Driscoll of IBM's Mindspan Solutions opened the second day of STC's Annual Interchange Conference, presenting the keynote speech, E-Learning, Collaboration, and Knowledge Management. Accompanying her fast-paced, lively, engaging talk was a well-executed slide show and video.

Dr. Driscoll told participants of this well-attended session that her position at IBM gives her a bird's-eye view of technology and learning in the corporate environment. IBM is a major motivator for e-learning (an acronym for electronic learning). IBM trains 30,000 people annually and endeavors to provide high-quality training in a cost-effective manner.

Dr. Driscoll's experience has shown that the Internet and the resulting Internet economy have changed the way that we all think about time, human capital, technology, connectivity, and learning. Learning in the corporate environment has changed--evolving from local learning to global learning and incorporating learners of varying education levels, diverse locations, and multiple languages. One-on-one training, corporate classes, or informal knowledge sharing no longer work, at least not easily and inexpensively.

In today's market, corporations consider "cost avoidance" a top priority; nonetheless, complex products and tasks still demand training. Therefore, organizations look for efficient and effective training methods. E-learning answers that search and offers the following benefits:

  • Reduces costs related to training--travel, room, and board
  • Enables learning any time and any place
  • Provides just-in-time learning
  • Leverages the existing infrastructure
  • Enables platform-independent delivery
  • Provides tools for tracking and record-keeping
  • Makes updating courses easy

E-learning utilizes the Internet, thus opening training to the entire supply chain. E-learning can occur anywhere, but the big users are typically business units, information technology groups, human resources, technical documentation departments, corporate universities, and centralized training organizations.

To demonstrate the power of e-learning, Dr. Driscoll presented a video showing how it worked for Parker Guitars of Wilmington, MA. Parker is a small business with a top product, but they found that training resellers or new users was complicated and expensive. By enlisting IBM's Mindspan Solutions to create an e-learning training class, Parker was able to solve its training problems. Using browsers on PCs at their locations, customer support personnel, sales people, and retailers can now learn about the technical specifications of a Parker electric guitar or the special features of a particular model. Traditional technical documentation pieces, such as user manuals, are today but a portion of the e-learning mix--a mix that includes pervasive informal and formal learning through browsers, PDAs, and cell phones. This mix might also include reusable learning objects, authoring interfaces, online tutoring, and knowledge discovery servers. Dr. Driscoll implied that technical writers will want to ensure that their horizons include the broad landscape of communication tools in order to successfully communicate technical information to an audience that demands cost-effective knowledge in an ever increasingly technologically complex world.

Bill Gruener is a Masters candidate in the Master of Technical and Professional Writing (MTPW) Program at Northeastern. He lives and works in the Merrimack Valley and is on contract at Schneider Electric in North Andover, MA.