Companies seeking solutions for customer and employee training can take advantage of a new Web service, Click2learn.com, that targets the general online learning market. While the the browser-based authoring and publishing application promises to be a useful distribution channel for product training materials, it is also appropriate for armchair academics and anyone with a yearning to teach the world a thing or two- -and earn royalties if anyone signs up.
Launched in October, Click2learn is another brainchild of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen who sees Web-delivered learning as a core component of his vision of a "wired world." The company's cash holdings are in excess of $24 million, about half of which comes from Vulcan Ventures Inc., the investment organization of Paul Allen, and Marshall Capital Management, Inc., an affiliiate of Credit Suisse First Boston. With friends like these, it is hard to see how the company, formerly known as Asymetrix Learning Systems, Inc., can go wrong.
In the company's previous incarnation, it offered authoring software for creating multimedia courseware. Now, it has morphed into an Internet company with a Web-based service model.
"From where technology is now, with the ubiquity of browsers and proliferation of content, we saw there was a major leap that could be made if we started clean and built a portal," said Joe E. DiNucci, senior vice president, worldwide sales at click2learn Inc.
Users from any walk of life can go to the site's home page and click on the "I want to teach" option. Without installing any additional software, authors, instructors and subject-matter experts can create courses using just their Web browser, set a purchase price for their course, and then publish it automatically to click2learn.com.
An online wizard walks the author through the publishing process, and helps organize thoughts and put information into an instructional design format. Working at his or her own pace (in as many sessions as necessary), the author chooses the template, course name and original text, graphics and video and has free access to sounds and images from the site's media library.
When a course is complete, it is reviewed, translated to HTML and listed in the online catalog along with thousands of professional learning courses on computer, business and professional development skills.
Initially, the biggest pull to the site is expected to come from businesses rather than individuals. Corporations can get a customized training interface by putting a click2learn button inside their organization, using an application service provider (ASP) model. Companies can choose what mix of online and offline courses, management expertise, ready-made tutorials, manuals, company-specific and proprietary information their employees will access via their Intranets.
DiNucci says that most interfaces can be up and running in about two weeks, depending on the content required.
"We see click2learn.com as a natural evolution to outside-the-firewall solutions," said CEO Jim Billmaier. "Click2learn.com provides large corporations with thousands of titles as well as a learning management and authoring product in a hosted environment, and it gives small businesses and individuals a cost-effective and convenient way to access a diverse library of computing and business titles."
For the consumer market, the company is setting up a commerce market in which individual authors can publish their courses and earn 30 percent of the sale price on every purchase. "We're like the EBay of knowledge," says Kevin Oakes, president and chief learning officer.
Although there is no author qualification process in place, click2learn is "letting the community take the lead," according to Oakes. Every time somebody takes a course, they rate it. In addition, in-house editorial staff at click2learn review and recommend courses, and an independent third-party organization, Online Learning Guide, offers thumbs-up and thumbs-down critiques on various courses.
"As an economic qualifier, we encourage authors to offer their first few course modules for free to see whether it meets the needs of the market," Oakes adds.