Tuesday, September 21, 2004

New Jersey expands its online job training program

Today, labor commissioners and officials from more than a dozen states and the federal government are meeting to talk about leveraging e-learning to teach job skills to low-income workers. They have evidence that online learning actually works. The AP is reporting that the New Jersey region of the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau has completed a truly successful pilot program in which it provided 128 women, all low-income single parents, with internet access and a computer, and had them take essential job skills training online from home. After the program their average wage rose 15%. Now New Jersey is expanding the program and other states are following.
In Maine, Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman is exploring how to tie in the New Jersey program with one there that gives seventh- and eighth-graders laptop computers for the entire school year, putting around 30,000 laptops in homes around the state. "I think this is going to mushroom into something very big," said Plotkin.

Of course it is.

The internet has been an underutilised training resource for too long. Once it becomes obvious that anytime-anywhere learning is helpful to people who otherwise could never get it together to learn, the question becomes "Why have we not done something to address the access obstacles before?" Those obstacles are not insurmountable, and, with a little imagination, solutions are not impossibly expensive.

Giving laptops to people to allow them to learn is not that expensive, given the benefits to society that can result. But it doesn't have to be laptops. Access devices are now available in the $200 price range, and that price is falling. And entire cities can be WiFi enabled for less than many companies spend on a corporate LMS.

Let the corporate trainers squabble endlessly over the finer points of implementing e-learning. Let the Luddites say that technology must be rolled out slowly and carefully. If you provide access to learning opportunities on the internet to people who need to learn, they will do so, no matter how unsophisticated the training vehicle may be. If learners such as those in the New Jersey program are motivated to succeed, they will do wonders with whatever is available to them. Just Do It!

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