on Employee Training.
a ways to go, but operators are beginning to see the
value in online learning.
a new field technician or customer service representative
joins the staff of RCN Corp., much of the training is
done through online distance learning.
Based in Princeton,
NJ, the facilities-based "overbuilder" competes
head-to-head with incumbent cable operators and phone
companies in seven of the top ten U.S. markets &endash;
Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San
Francisco, and Washington DC.
"We see online
learning as part of the culture within our company," said
E.K. Ramani, the senior vice president in charge of
operations and customer care. "We call it the 'RCN
Experiences' because our training does more than teach
the necessary skillset. We teach a whole way of doing
things that's different than our competitors."
Through both online
and classroom sessions, for instance, RCN technicians are
taught that before they enter any home for an
installation or service call, they must always pause to
put on a clean pair of blue surgery room booties to
protect the rugs or carpeting in the household. "I cannot
tell you how many letters we get from our customers who
disbelieve how much we care about them. We instill this
thoughtful 'bedside manner' as part of our
networks to train technicians and customer service
representatives is a growing trend in the cable industry,
although the idea is not so new. The challenge is doing
"There's a lot more
talk about online learning in cable than there is online
learning actually going on," says Tom Brooksher, the
president/CEO of NCTI, the Denver-based national cable
training institute that since the advent of
telecommunications now goes only by its acronym. "There
is a growing body of online training content available
from companies like ours, and more is being developed
every day in anticipation of the demand, but cable has
not rushed to embrace it."
that perhaps 90% of the cable industry training are still
being done in traditional classroom settings coupled with
"a significant amount of self-study." Most of the cable
training materials are printed on paper rather than in
electronic form, he adds, "but a lot more than ten
percent of the content is online."
NCTI is steadily
moving its catalog of printed materials into web-based
formats, he reports, but the long-respected company is
not publishing material in fixed media formats like
CD-ROM or DVD. "Whether delivered on the Web within a
digital network learning management system [LMS].
We think online is the way to go."
While pickup may be
slow, he says every major cable company is moving into
distance learning because of the cost efficiencies.
Online solutions cut the expense of flying trainers out
to all the divisions or else bringing personnel to a
central training facility. Putting curricula materials
into digital format also reduces costs over printing.
Electrons are cheaper to duplicate than atoms.
Brooksher says most
of the major cable operators have installed learning
management systems. The LMS stores the digital training
documents on servers for instant on-demand delivery to
computers connected within intranets or extranets. The
LMS also tracks the training of every
He then notes that
few cable operators have taken full advantage of the LMS
technology's potential. "We have electronic content ready
for them, but most of them still want our paper-based
says cable operators are increasingly serious about
e-learning for staff training and development.
Comcast last June
hired Rebecca Ray as the president of Comcast University,
which oversees all training and development efforts
within the cable compasny natioanlly. Involved in
financial services ventures prior to joining Comcast, she
had launched the corporate university of American Skandia
and led the learning and development functions at Merrill
Lynch & Co. Inc. and Prudential Securities Inc., this
after teaching management at New York
spokesperson Chris Ellis says the top U.S. cable operator
(with 21.3 million video subscribers and 4.3 million
broadband cutomers) is not yet ready to discuss the
changes that Ray making in the training and development
arena, but offers assurances the distance learning
component is a major emphasis. Because Ray is so new on
the job, Ellis says, he's unwilling to comment on the
fiscal or educational results Comcast expects from her
Ray has her work
cut out for her. According to a former Comcast affiliate
who asked not to be identified, the company has spent
more than a million dollars developing its learning
management system without much appreciable return on its
investment, so far.
At Time Warner
Cable, the senior vice president of customer care, Dave
Temlak, declines to disclose any specifics of online
learning programs within the company,including
anticiapted results. But in terms of general principles,
he says TWC is implementing "effective training across
the enterprise" with face-to-face classroom sessions,
coroprate training of the regional division trainers, and
In terms of
e-learning, he says TWC is still developing its training
capabilities "on the transport level" with an LMS and the
Web to provide "distance learning opportunities wherever
possible." Remaining in abstractions, "We believe
e-learning technology will come to make a major
contribution to our training efforts."
Why the reticense
of Comcast and Time Warner in providing details? Compare
cable's long ballyhoo for distance learning with
Brooker's comment on how little of cable's training
activites are online so far.
Online training is
a priority at Adelphia Communications, says Regina
Hutchinson, the vice president of learning and safety
based in Denver. With major efforts pending until the
company's emergence from bankruptcy restructuring, "we've
started to venture into distance learning and already
have some courses online, such as training the customer
service and field technicians on using high-speed data
services, which seems perfect for teaching
courses at Adelphia are available during the workday, she
explains. The CSRs can do the training at their own
workstations in modules that may take from 20 minutes to
an hour to complete. Field technicians come into a
corporate training center where the computers are waiting
for them. Adelphia is gradually installing e-learning
kiosks in each city to save time and travel expenses.
She also declines
to provide any hard numbers on expected savings or the
anticipated return on their investment, but how much are
plane tickets, hotels and meals?
She does report
that the online training programs at Adelphia are mostly
text with some graphics. "We don't have any streaming
video because the infrastructure for it is not in place
just yet, but we'll get there."
Even when the
company moves full bore into online learning, there are
some skills that cannot be taught electronically, such as
pole climbing, and must be done in real life. Also,
observes Hutchinson, the staff enjoys the social aspects
of classroom training, everything from the camaraderie to
the donuts at the back of the room.
"We'll continue to
use a blended solution for training delivery," she says.
"We'll use the classroom where its most effective, and
we'll use a learning management system or the Web when
that's the best way to go." She says about 20 percent of
the training is now on the LMS.
How can cable
companies use their distance learning systems to gain the
and planning is crucial, says Carmine Porco, the vice
president of Prescient Digital Media in Toronto, a
consultancy specializing in e-learning intranet
development. Their clients include Bell Canada, Cisco
Systems, Sprint PCS, and AOL Time Warner.
"You need to do
site visits for staff interviews and focus groups," he
says. "Find out how your people prefer to be trained. Is
a video of an interaction with a difficult customer going
to be more effective for a CSR than reading instructions
on what to say?"
Companies then need
to create a workable plan for managing their educational
activities and assets. They also need to establish
realistic criteria for measuring the results of online
training. "Benchmarking your performance standards is
incentives is another important element. Without naming
names, Porco recalls a telecommunications company that
offered a $1000 bonus to the first 100 employees who
successfully completed a voluntary online training
course. Another venture in the insurance services sector
mandated an e-learning program for all employees with
fiscal consequences for those who resisted.
"The question is
how to calculate your return on investment," he says. "Be
sure not to build your business case only on the
financial benefits. The money you save on travel to a
classroom course may end up costing you more in the long
run if the material is not truly suited to online
management system supposedly will pay for itself in two
years, he cautions, "but when you look under the covers,
are people really learning what they should and how they
should? Sometimes, e-learning is best only as an
enhancement or reinforcement of classroom training, not
as a replacement for it."
investing in online learning comes from cable systems
pioneer Glenn Jones, chairman of Jones International in
Denver, who established Jones International University,
the world's first accredited Web-based degree granting
Although he sold
off his systems to focus on e-learning, Jones now offers
training materials to cable operators &endash; like a
general safety course, set-top box installation courses
for each manufacturer, and a customer service course
&endash; which operators customize with their own
"The change to
distance learning is not easy," he says "but cable people
are already technologically minded, and that helps a lot.
The main thing is to apply the best practices from
instructional design and make the online interface as
user-friendly as possible."
Cable is positioned
for explosive growth in distance learning, says Dr.
Bernard Luskin, the director of the media studies program
at the Field Graduate Institute in San Bernardino,
Calif., offering the world's first Ph.D. in media
psychology. A trailblazer in distance learning since the
Seventies, Luskin in the Nineties led the entry of Jones
International into online education.
To fulfill the
potential, Luskin says, cable operators must make sure
they have fully qualified "chief learning officers" who
understand media affects in terms of both personal
motivation and corporate culture. "You need to overlap an
effective learning environment with a clear vision of
what you're trying to do. The key is putting as much
emphasis on the staff's personal growth as on job
Says Jones, "A
well-trained workforce is cable's best defense against
competition in the marketplace." .
December 2003 in premier of Transmit
2003 by Ken