Across the nation, in hot-wired universities, corporations and even small businesses, virtual learning courses are taking off. Industry watchers forecast that U.S. companies will spend $11 billion annually on online-training courses by 2003, and universities and other higher-education providers another $10 billion. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, has gone so far as calling online education the Internet’s “killer app.”
In Pugetopolis, one company — Talking Dog Media — has consistently demonstrated its profound understanding and imaginative vision of this emerging martketplace. The company literally grew out of the admissions and multimedia departments of Seattle-based City University, where Talking Dog CEO Lisa Khatib began her career, spearheading the development of what would eventually become five online degree programs for the university. Today, Talking Dog’s engaging approach to online learning combines entertaining dramatization and role-playing with the latest Internet-based streaming technology. We caught up with Lisa on her way to London to talk to The Financial Times about Web-based training. Here’s how she educated us. —LS
Seattle24x7: Lisa, why has E-learning become especially important for companies in the Internet age?
Khatib: For one, it saves a lot of money. And once the course is online, it’s online forever. It’s much more easily updated and modified. For those organizations with multiple locations, the convenience of being able to provide instant access to information simultaneously is very desirable.
Seattle24x7:What are the benefits to the trainees?
Khatib: Learners can move at their own speed. And they can review it as many times as they need to.
Seattle24x7: What does it cost to produce an E-learning course?
Khatib: There’s no exact formula, but the industry is saying anywhere from $35,000 to $65,000 for a course, and at the higher end of that for a media-rich course. You have to ask yourself: how long is this course going to have a shelf life; how many people are you delivering it to; what would it cost you if you were doing it the off-line way? In our case, we say that three hours of online time constitutes a training course.
We also produce the print materials in-house. One of the things we like to brag about is that we carry a consistent look and feel throughout the materials, online and print.
Seattle24x7: What else makes Talking Dog’s E-learning programs unique?
Khatib: We totally believe that education needs to be entertaining. If you’re going to put somebody behind a machine and expect them to stay interested in it, then you’re going to have to introduce entertainment at the learning level.
We just won a medal from the New York Film Festival for one of our productions. We’ve won a number of OMNI International awards for our video vignettes and educational media, and a number of ITVA (International Television and Video Association) awards.
Seattle24x7: You seem to be recreating real-life scenarios and role-playing in your video work. Are you finding opportunities for immersive media such as Virtual Reality-type environments?
Khatib: We can layer Flash on top of video so we can create interactive branching based on real-time decision-making. In terms of actual physical production, we have a complete studio and production facility in-house.
Seattle24x7: Are cinema verite and live-action scenarios an effective training style?
Khatib: I would point to the Gardner theory of multiple intelligences — the idea that people learn in different ways — visually, through listening, bodily or kinesthetically. In terms of today’s technology, the Internet can let you take advantage of all these learning styles. You have interactive exercises, practice tests and animations that require you do things, and you have the ability to deliver audio and video. Most classrooms don’t do that good a job.
Seattle24x7: You’ve also incorporated gaming into the V-learning equation.
Khatib:We developed a game for a graduate E-com course called The Game of Global Economics, for which we created a fictitious island and gave the learner different choices on what kind of product they wanted to produce on the island. Depending on their choices, the game reports back on the economic success of the island, and the environmental impact.
We also developed a game on what it takes to start your business in another country. We picked Germany, and we gave the user choices about the type of corporation, manufacturing sites, taxes, employee requirements, etc. The learner sorts through all that, makes selections, and gets a result. That was for the National Alliance for Insurance Education. .
Seattle24x7: How would I get started in designing an E-learning program with Talking Dog?
Khatib:We’ll generally work with subject matter experts from your company, whether that’s the trainers or senior executives, whomever is the knowledgeable expert on that topic. Those people work with us through the scripting and storyboarding. So they’re insuring all the relevant points are upheld within the design of the course.
We go through the first stage with them developing what we call the Design and Specification Requirements Document. And that basically spells out the requirements for the programs. From there, we can start to get into the development of the content.
Seattle24x7: Do organizations use courseware for assessment purposes?
Khatib: Assessment is usually a big part of almost every course we build. It’s also pretty important to organizations. Companies might elec to store data in an individual’s human resource file. The assessment process can also reveal the reasons behind the results; if most people are getting one group of questions wrong, then you may want to simplify or clarify the content. It also allows you to do intervention with a learner that’s having a hard time.
Seattle24x7: How are you deciding on the tools and competing standards that you will use?
Khatib: Our goal is create content that’s independent — meaning that nothing that we do is proprietary software. As an example, three years ago Flash barely existed, and it’s probably the most popular online animation tool in the world now. If we had been doing things in a proprietary fashion, we would not have been able to easily adapt to something like that and add it to our courseware.
Larry Sivitz is the Managing Editor of Seattle24x7.
Talking Dog Media
Job inquiries: email@example.com
Film and video department: firstname.lastname@example.org
1331 118th Avenue SE, Suite 300
Bellevue, WA 98005
Management: Lisa Khatib, President and CEO; John Edwards, Director of Photography (email@example.com);
Richard Bartlett, Account Executive (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Projected Annual Billings (2001):
Current clients: Washington Mutual Bank, The National Alliance of Insurance Education and Research, the Seattle Community College District, Play Networks, Loudeye, Stone Tablet Computing, Kenworth from Paccar, Cogswell College (based in SFO, branch in Everett),