January 19, 2004
Online Training Courses - Are they for You?
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor

Welcome to GISWeekly! Online training courses are gaining popularity in the GIS industry, catering to those who need to hone some skills, or learn new software programs without having to attend a class at a local college or university. The courses can allow flexible scheduling so that attendees are not tied down to a rigid timetable, which can work well for those with hectic work demands. Education product managers from popular GIS and consulting vendors answer questions about their company's online training offerings in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Alliances/Acquisitions, Announcements, New Products, Going on Around the Web, and Calendar.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Online Training Courses - Are they for You?

By Susan Smith

Online training courses are gaining popularity in the GIS industry, catering to those who need to hone some skills, or learn new software programs without having to attend a class at a local college or university. The courses can allow flexible scheduling so that attendees are not tied down to a rigid timetable, which can work well for those with hectic work demands.

Some of these courses and workshops come with course materials and instructors, and in some cases, include spatial data, exams and many other expectations of a live classroom setting, presented live, over the web. Those who answered questions here are Fiona Hopkinson, Education and Interoperability Programs Manager-Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions, Judy Boyd, ESRI Educational Products Manager and Melody Craigmyle, Director of Corporate Communications, Avatech Solutions Inc.

Q1) What are the criteria for users to be able to take the online training courses offered by your company?

Virtual Campus is open to the public. Everything needed to complete the courses and workshops is available online, including concepts, examples, exercises, spatial data, and exams.

Avatech--Currently, Avatech's on-line training is done as custom training for different organizations, based on their needs. A schedule, course content and instructor are chosen by the client and offered live, over the web. The training sessions can also be recorded and posted on a company intranet.

Intergraph--Our first course is Introduction to GIS is for beginners, therefore prior knowledge or exposure to GIS is not required. Some students interested in our courses are not presently using Intergraph products. All they need is Internet access and we provide them with all the necessary software.

Q2) How do you determine what subjects to offer?

ESRI--Customers tell us what subjects they need through online evaluations, polls, and surveys.

Avatech--As the one of the nation's largest Autodesk Authorized Training Center, Avatech
Solutions offers training in all Autodesk products including Autodesk MapGuide, Autodesk Map, Autodesk Land Desktop including Civil and Survey specific courses. Avatech has selected these products because they are popular among designers and if trained properly, employee productivity can dramatically improve.

Intergraph--We wanted to take a different approach and offer an integrated geotechnologies course online. This means our course discusses theory of GIS, GPS and other geotechnologies within a broader context of the software. The reality is, people use GIS with other technologies and information within their enterprise and we wanted a more expansive learning experience.

We offer training that meets market demand not only now, but also future market needs. We will be announcing our next course later this year.

Q3) Do you offer well-known instructors who are available to users as they move through the course, or is yours a materials-only training course? If instructors are available, how much one-on-one time is available to students?

ESRI-- ESRI Virtual Campus courses and workshops are designed for self study. Courses are developed by ESRI education specialists and well-known academics and industry professionals. Learners get peer-to-peer support through campus clubs and education support analysts answer questions by email. During Live Training Seminars at the campus, customers have their questions answered in real time by a professional ESRI instructor.

Avatech--Avatech Solutions' trainers are certified, industry-experienced instructors with effective teaching skills. Many different types of courses are offered including in classroom, onsite, and elearning classes. Training can be customized to meet specific work environment and industry needs and it can also be process based where the training is more project-specific than

Elearning training includes online Tech Tips, eDemos, and Workshops. Tech Tips allow students to quickly gain a competitive advantage by viewing exclusive streaming media Quick Tech Tips created by Avatech's Application Engineers. eDemos allow companies to ensure the software is right for them by viewing our streaming media eDemos before they make an expensive purchasing decision. Avatech's Online Workshops bring popular topics and Avatech's talented instructors right to your desktop.

Intergraph--Our instructor, Jeff Thurston, has been teaching online since 1994 and has both online and classroom experience. In designing the course we wanted to achieve high levels of interactivity with students. Weekly chats with the instructor provide this together with online interactive discussion boards for which the instructor usually participates within 24 hours. We have students from all around the world and try to be flexible with time zones and local student time to enable everyone to participate.

Q4) What type of certification do students receive after completing the course?

ESRI-- Customers receive a certification of completion from ESRI for successfully completing an online exam. Continuing education units for Virtual Campus courses are available through some university programs.

Avatech--Autodesk does not currently offer any type of certification for its courses.

Intergraph--Upon completion of the course students are eligible for continuing education points towards GISCI certification as well as GeoMedia Professional User certification.

Students are then eligible to take a more advanced course that is being established and will be available shortly. This will provide students with a logical learning path that builds on their knowledge.

Q5) What are the average terms of the training courses - six weeks? 3 months? A semester?

ESRI-- ESRI Virtual Campus learners work at their own paces. Each course module
takes 2-4 hours to complete.

Avatech--Most of Avatech's classroom training courses are 2-4 days. Its an intensive, 8-hour day using a variety of exercises and instructor lecture. For 30 days after the course, students receive free technical support from the National Support Center to answer any follow-up questions. Students are also encouraged to visit the Tech Tips section of the website periodically for quick refreshers and new tips on the software.

Intergraph--The Intergraph courses are designed to provide about 60 hours of instruction within 10 weeks, roughly equivalent to a semester. The course is designed to provide basic learning materials, but a unique feature we provide is exploratory learning materials that supplement the basic course material. These explorations are designed to challenge students who choose to work with them and who may have slightly more experience or interest to learn even more.

Q6) Are advanced courses offered?

ESRI-- Yes.

Avatech--Beginner, intermediate and advanced courses are offered.

Intergraph--Our current course is the foundation course. Future courses will build on this first course. We anticipate prospective courses to become more specialized to meet the needs of users requirements in particular fields.

Q7) What are the costs involved, and are there any special discounts for groups, entire organizations, etc.?

ESRI-- There are hundreds of hours of free course modules, workshops and training seminars available at ESRI Virtual Campus. Courses range in price from $50-$225 (depending on length) and workshops cost $30. Educators and students receive a 40% discount at the campus. Discounts of 5%-10% are also offered for volume purchases and subscriptions offer even greater savings with discounts ranging from 10%-65%. Professional associations participating in the Professional Connection Program get a 20% discount for their members.

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