Technology is now as much a part of the training room as tables and chairs. Yet the name of the techno game in 2008 is likely to be refinement rather than brand new products.
It is no exaggeration to say that 2007 was not a year of great leaps forward in training-room technology. Rather we saw refinements of existing equipment, making it more accessible to the everyday user, and more effective at assisting learning.
Consequently, anyone who has in the past shied away from new training kit, thinking it would be too complicated or too expensive, would be well advised to revisit the subject and see just how much has changed.
Take, for example, projectors. Anyone who has stood in front of one trying to present to a group for more than a few hours will be aware of just what a problem glare is. Also, traditional projectors, because of the distance between them and the screen onto which they project, have created shadow, making it hard for the trainer to see what they are writing.
But super close projectors (so-called because they can be placed very close to a screen), such as the Toshiba Short-Throw projector and the 3M Digital Media System 700 Series projectors, have been designed to resolve these problems.
Paul Gardner, business development manager at 3M Visual Systems, says: “These projectors are revolutionising the way in which training officers interact with their audiences in meeting spaces of all shapes and sizes.”
He adds: “Even the smallest meeting room can now be equipped with an all-in-one, desktop projector that sits right at the front of the room, virtually eliminating long cords that clutter the table so participants can view content in comfort. Our projector allows a 50-inch projection from just 24.5 inches away, and so greatly minimises projector beam glare and shadow interference while the presenter is working in front of the screen.”
Interactive whiteboards are not new, but in recent months manufacturers have made some changes that have made them considerably more useable by trainers or presenters.
Gary Dixon, business development manager at Steljes, says: “A supplier called Smart has built the software into the whiteboard units.
“This means that you no longer need a PC to operate them. You can just turn up, switch it on, and start your training session. More or less anyone can use them for training.”
“Turning Point has also upgraded its conditional branching on the interactive element of the whiteboards. You can now pre-load questions onto handsets, which you give to delegates to take into break-out sessions where they input their answers.
Once the full group reconvenes, you can easily upload and aggregate the answers from all the groups. This is part of a growing recognition on the part of technology providers that training doesn’t only take place in one large room,” he adds.
This month, Promethean is launching Activexpression. This is a learner response system, similar in design to a mobile phone, that allows delegates to ‘text’ ideas to a whiteboard. It enables trainers to create questions and polls during the session rather than simply relying on pre-prepared material.
For some businesses, however, despite all these innovations, the interactive whiteboard is still too complex and expensive.
Last year, 3M moved to fill this gap in the market with the launch of Digital Easel.
Spokesman Paul Gardner says: “At £799, the Digital Easel is very affordable. It works just like a flipchart. It also has all the benefits of an interactive whiteboard. For example, you can capture everything you write and send it electronically to all delegates and to anyone who missed the session.”
No doubt 2008 will see more training-room technology coming on to the market, but learning and development professionals should always remember they are tools to help trainers, rather than magic wands that can transform base metal to gold.
Case study: Training 2000
Blackburn-based Training 2000 delivers work-based vocational training to the automotive, engineering, business services and healthcare sectors. It recently carried out an audit into the training it provides, and this covered not only how it is delivered, but also the equipment that is used.
Following this audit, all Training 2000 classrooms are now fully equipped with Promethean Activboards, together with Activote learner response systems and Activslate tablets. All of the coursework is developed using Activstudio software. Trainers also use an Activpanel, enabling flipcharts used in the classroom to be displayed in the workshop environment on a 20-foot screen.
Michael Hunt, director of programmes, says: “Activote systems cut down the marking times for staff tremendously, and this allows them to spend more time with the learners, making sure they’ve understood the lessons.
Partly because of this, our student pass rates are well above the national average. In the automotive sector, for example, the national framework achievement rate is 50%, whereas Training 2000’s is 76%.”