Computer training: an overview. George Blank.
For years people have been predicting that computers would take over education. That is beginning to be very much in doubt, but while we were waiting, education took over the computer market. There seems to be more training available on how to use a computer than there are computer based courses on how to do other things. There are now many ways to learn about computers.
Many people like to learn in classroom setting. Around the offices of Creative Computing in Morris County, New Jersey, we found many different courses available. Our local community college and several adult education programs at local high schools offer computer courses, as do many local computer dealers and some private schools.
The Executive Computer Network of Fairfield is a proprietary school specializing in training personnel from nearby large companies. They offer one-day beginner and advanced courses in Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase II at $200 per person per day and a one-day course in WordStar for $175. They limit classes to 10 people and provide an IBM personal computer in the classroom for each student. The obvious advantage of this approach is the opportunity to obtain an immediate answer from a knowledgeable instructor if you have any questions. ECN also includes 30 days of telephone support after each course.
The Entre Computer Center in Pine Brook offers instruction on WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3 at their store for $30 an hour, with a private tutor. They report that most of their students require two sessions of three hours each to reach proficiency.
Radio Shack Computer Centers also have classrooms. They offer about 80 courses ranging in price from $30 to $150 and have many more courses under development. Classes are usually limited to 16 students, with an average size of six to eight. The courses consist of one to four sessions of two or three hours each. Radio Shack will teach Basi to educators at no charge, and they have already given their Introduction to Basic course to more than 400,000 people. Their most popular paid courses are training on the Scripsit word processing, Profile database, and General Ledger programs.
One problem with computer application training is that most of the training is available for the applications that have sold the most. That is only logical, and it may seem to be a good thing. Unfortunately, in computer software, best seller status is not necessarily attributable to quality or performance. The easiest way to become a best seller is to be the first adequate product. If a better product comes along in six months, you may have so much momentum that newer entries can never catch up. A recent study ranked WordStar in the bottom half of 22 word processing packages for the IBM PC, yet there is probably more training available for WordStar than for all the others combined.
DBase II is awkward to use, contains bugs, and reportedly even destroys files occasionally. It is not a true relational database and is quite limited in th number of files and records it can handle. Several of its more powerful competitors offer more stable code, better security, and better query languages. Yet dBase II dominates the training packages available for database systems. Of course, a complex product with foibles and idiosyncrasies requires more training than a well designed, easy to use product, so it may be in the interest of the training industry to support the older packages.
Many packages come with tutorial materials. Excellent examples are Perfect Software's Perfect Writer and Perfect Calc. Both applications allow two display windows on the screen, so the tutorials are set up to put the lessons on the bottom half of the screen while you work problems and experiment on the top half. These tutorials are so good that there is little need for other training.
A less enjoyable approach, and I think a less effective one, is taken by Lotus Development in their 1-2-3 tutorial disk. They also create a text lesson window on the screen, with actual worksheet displays in another window, but the lesson is canned and linear. You can type only what they tell you to type. Fortunately, with that approach, when you get bored, you can just hold down the spacebar and the program will do the typing. The Lotus tutorial is a good overview, but the lack of opportunity to experiment at appropriate points in the lessons makes it much harder to remember the material. I learned much better with the Perfect Calc and Perfect Writer tutorials.
In the sections that follow, we look at specific examples of computer based training under subject headings of application training, computer languages, and non-computer subjects. One category of training software that is not included here is that which falls under the general heading of computer literacy. Basic overview packages, introductions to the keyboard, tutorials on disk operating systems, and programs that teach you how to type are available from many manufacturers and will be covered in a separate article in an upcoming issue of Creative Computing.
For the categories that are discussed, we have listed some of the packages available and the addresses of their manufacturers. A summary article discusses what to look for in training materials in general and applies to programs in the computer literacy category as well as those in the categories discussed in detail.
Most training materials focus on the IBM personal computer; it dominates the management market the way Apple dominates the secondary school market. Software publishers try to develop programs for large markets. Therefore, if you have a computer that is not covered, I apologize in advance.
I own computers from seven manufacturers and have access to several more at Creative Computing, so I would have preferred to cover more of them. But if most taxicab drivers had Apple Macintoshes in their cabs, only a foolish software house would develop taxicab routing software for the Osborne I!