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Informal Technical Seminars

You are the head of research for ChemCALResearch Associates, a chemical research firm with about 1,500 chemists and chemical engineers at five research locations in three time zones. Your training goal is to communicate leading-edge research among all your chemists. This is beyond the communications that happen in formal scientific publications. You’re aiming for something more informal and much more timely. What you want is for researchers to present their research approaches and results to their peer chemists, so that the state-of-the-art information will flow quickly through the organization and improve your competitive advantage.

Your training problem would be very much simplified if all the chemists were physically located at the same facility. In that case, you could hold regular lunch-and-learn seminars. Interested chemists could walk over and hear a seminar when it covered a topic they were interested in. But with several research facilities in different locations and time zones, you need a different approach. Chemists cannot just fly off to a live seminar over lunch.

What Are the Stakes?

The stakes are the speed with which “state-of-the-art research information” flows through your company. By quickly spreading fresh research approaches and promising results throughout your organization, you can get more brainpower behind new ideas. And since such research information is the key thing your company produces, this is critical to your business success.

Student Motivation

Every chemist in your company will not be interested in every seminar. But when the seminar topic touches on what a particular chemist is working on, the interest will be intense.

Note: Stop a moment and think of your own e-learning solution before reading on.

Solution Factors

The key to making this kind of informal training a success is to imitate the informal lunch-and-learn event you would have run if everyone worked at the same location. What you need is a way to do a seminar in a self-service way so that chemists will be motivated to give such seminars without making too much of a project of it. If it’s too hard to do, the chemist will just continue working on her mainline chemical research and not bother to give a seminar.

Think of what a lunch-and-learn event would be like: The chemist would prepare a couple of overhead transparencies (or do it in PowerPoint) and then stand up in front of the group and give an informal talk.

The key success factors are:

  1. Can the chemist do it herself?
  2. Can she do it quickly?
  3. Can it be up and running almost immediately after the PowerPoint slides are uploaded and the audio recording is done?

You want to avoid anything that makes it hard for the chemist to quickly construct her own presentation. And you want to avoid anything that delays getting the recorded seminar up and running on the Web for your other employees. In other words, can you keep that same level of self-service and informality and still deliver it over the Internet? Yes, you can.

The technology exists (IBM calls them “Web lectures”) for the chemist to prepare a handful of PowerPoint slides, upload them to a Web server, call a number on the phone and record the voice- over for each slide, and then, within a matter of hours, have the recorded seminar available for delivery over the Web. Being recorded for replay, the seminar can be accessed on demand— whenever any of the peer chemists needs to look at it. If you then add in an electronic registration capability so you know who attended each seminar, you have the Internet equivalent of lunch- and-learn seminars.

Some solution alternatives:

  • You could record a video of the chemist talking about her topic and transmit that over the Internet. The technology exists for small PC cameras to record informal talks. The danger here is that without a professional cameraman, the focus will be on the talking head instead of on the information. In other words, nonprofessional camerawork can be distracting.
  • You could run live lunch-and-learn events at one location, record them with a camera crew, and replay them over the Internet for the other locations.