Training for specific applications.
The largest single category of computer training programs available is training for specific application programs. I used training programs from the manufacturer for Radio Shack's Scripsit and Super Scripsit, Perfect Software' Perfect Writer and Perfect Calc, and for Lotus Development's 1-2-3. Also reviewed, from third party suppliers, were three different courses on VisiCalc, three courses on dBase iI, and three courses on Lotus 1-2-3. These represent only a small fraction of the courses available. Cdex alone has five courses on Lotus 1-2-3; four each for Multiplan, VisiCalc, and SuperCalc; six for accounting packages, three on database management systems; four for word processors; and on on TK! Solver. ATI has a similar number of courses. Many of these courses are available in separate versions for the IBM PC and Apple computers.
The IBM PC and Business Software by James Kelly is a book that includes two disks with examples for World Star, VisiCalc, and dBase iI. This tutorial gives reasonably complete coverage of each of the three programs, covering even
fu nctions I have never needed.
Frankly, the biggest drawback to this book is that, although all three programs are popular, there are better programs available in each category. I found the layout of the book unattractive, and I was easily bored reading a book that consisted largely of text for me to type into the computer.
However, the book, with 100 pages on VisiCalc, does go into much greater detail and covers more functions than either the MLS Teach Program for VisiCalc or the Cdex Training for VisiCalc. It is also significantly cheaper at $39.50. For one person on a tight budget who wants to become an expert at VisiCalc and is willing to work hard to do it. I recommend The IBM PC and Business Software. I do not recommend it to companies that simply want to train a number of people efficiently and inexpensively with minimal supervision. For such companies I recommend Cdex Training for VisiCalc.
Teach Program for VisiCalc from Micro Learning Systems, like their IBM PC Teach program, requires linear rote learning. I used it to teach an employee to use VisiCalc. Although she had been entering data into a VisiCalc template for months, she had never learned to create her own spreadsheets. It took her 50 minutes to complete the disk tutorial. Her understanding was then sufficient to recreate and modify our company model, with a little reinforcement from the Cdex course. I should mention that she took the IBM PC version of Teach Program for VisiCalc and two lessons from the Apple version of Cdex Training for VisiCalc, and then went to use her training on the Radio Shack TRS-80. The only problem she encountered as a result of using different computers was the substitution of the CLEAR key on the TRS-80 for the ESCAPE key on the other machines.
Because the Cdex course is similar in approach to their Lotus 1-2-3 training, discussed in the next section, I will not describe it in detail.
I had a consulting job in New Hampshire, and on my way back home I stopped off at Lotus Development headquarters in Boston where I was treated to a demonstration of Symphony. I was overwhelmed by its power and shamed that I had never learned to use its predecessor, 1-2-3. This gave me a perfect opportunity to try out several training packages.
I started with the training that comes with 1-2-3 from Lotus Development. While the instruction was linear without any particularly notable features, it was efficient and sufficient to enable me to use 1-2-3 confidently. It must also have covered the same material covered by the basic Cdex course, because I had no trouble continuing directly into the Cdex advanced course.
The Cdex course was also logically organized and effective. It covered more advanced features of Lotus 1-2-3 in a way that allowed me to understand some features that I did not pick up in the other courses. However, for the first few days, I could not do the accompanying exercises. Whenever I tried to load them, I got the message Illegal File Format.
I finally guessed that I had an early version of 1-2-3 that required DOS 1.1, while Cdex supplied the exercises on the nine-track disk that could not be read by DOS 1.1. After copying the files onto an eight-track disk, I was able to read them. (I wonder how many of their regular customers would have figured this out?)
Even without the file incompatibility problem, it was awkward to switch back and forth between the Cdex disk, using the UCSD Pascal operating system, and Lotus 1-2-3, using PC DOS, for the exercises. You waste several minutes loading programs every time you switch. Primarily for this reason, I would not choose to use the Cdex program to train my own employees, although I do consider Cdex training effective.
I was prejudiced against the FlipTrack course, feeling that an interactive disk course should be much better than listening to a cassette. To my surprise, I liked the FlipTrack How to Use Lotus 1-2-3 better than any of the other application training programs I reviewed. For one reason, hearing something as well as seeing it and doing it helped me to remember what I learned. I also liked working directly with Lotus 1-2-3, so that I could stop the tape at any time and experiment with the commands I had just learned. In fact, the tape message encouraged me to do just that at the end of many of the lessons.
The flip track concept--turning the cassette over for more advanced training on many of the topics covered--allowed me to decide how deeply to get into each topic. I liked that and chose to take the flip track about one third of the time. Although FlipTrack's pacing did not match my own, I did tend to keep going through the material to keep up with the tape, and I appreciated the extra motivation that created.
On the tape course, organization and presentation of the material are critical, and I felt that FlipTrack did an excellent job of covering the right topics in the right order, in sufficient depth and with adequate examples and practice. I think they did a better job of balancing these factors than any other training package I reviewed.
However, once I finished the FlipTrack course, I did not want to use it to review a concept. I think that the disk based programs are more effective for selective training, because you can use the menu to get directly to the appropriate topic.
The Software Primer: Lotus 1-2-3 (Level 1), from JNZ Inc., is a tutorial consisting of a manual and an example disk tutorial. It covers a wide range of basic 1-2-3 functions, taking the functions one at a time is systematic order. While Level 1 does not cover advanced topics like keyboard macros, which are covered in both the Cdex course and the FlipTrack course, it does give much broader coverage of the elementary functions, including such obscure ones as @DSTD and changing the default printer settings.
The manual comes in a nice free-standing easel binder that makes it easy to use. It is not typeset but is clearly printed with a letter quality printer in an appropriate type size and with judicious use of overstriking for boldface. I consider this a good way to learn to use 1-2-3, like using 1-2-3 directly, and like the easel format. I don't particularly enjoy using a book to learn, although it is comprehensive and cost effective. I assume that their forthcoming Level iI of the same tutorial will cover the advanced features. This book is much better for reference purposes than the Cdex course, although, frankly, the function reference section of the Lotus manual is better than either of them.
All are effective. So which course should you buy? First of all, except in a corporate training center, use the tutorial that comes with Lotus 1-2-3. Then, if you can set aside time free from distractions and want to learn 1-2-3 quickly and in depth, get the Flip Track course. If you want to maintain tight control over your company's training, carefully schedule the use of computer time, and efficiently teach a standardized, moderate level of functioning to groups of people, the Cdex course is a good choice. If control of the training environment is less important, and you want to encourage some experimentation, the Software Primer is also good. Finally, once you have taken any of the courses, move the Appendices and the Index to the front of your Lotus 1-2-3 manual and use the "1-2-3 Function Reference" appendix as your main learning tool.
We have yet to hear from one of the major players in the training market place. ATI and Cdex are locked in battle for primacy in corporate interactive computer training. I used the ATI dBase iI course.
The ATI materials are ruthlessly efficient. They offer straight linear coverage of the bare minimum of material necessary to use the application program. You must type exactly what the source tells you to type when it tells you, except that you can mix upper-and lowercase. Any other deviations leads to an error message.
I was pleased with the brevity for I found these the most boring training materials I reviewed. Most topics are covered with only one example in the tutorial. But you can learn enough in three hours to do a great deal with dBase iI, and the ATI manual is organized to refresh you on any covered topic in 30 seconds, eliminating the need for depth of coverage in the tutorial itself.
Since ATI and Cdex are major players, some comparative comments are in order. While I had only the dBase iI course from ATI, I had three courses from Cdex, among which was their dBase iI course. The dBase iI course coves approximately the same material as the ATI course. However, it covers it in more detail, with solid explanations before each concept. The Cdex course also allows more freedom in entering information for exercises; allowing you to define your own headings, for example.
A further feature of ecdex is testing immediately after each section, usually true/false, so that you can verify that you learned the material. ecdex also offers practice sessions, supplied on a data disk, to provide some hands-on training. I felt that I knew more after a Cdex section than after an ATI section, but of course it also took more time. While the Cdex manual is also a good reference to dBase iI, I felt that the ATI manual was easier to use; sufficiently so that I preferred it for support until I gained cofidence with dBase iI.
In short, I rate the programs a toss-up; ATI is probably the best course if you are highly motivated and in a hurry to learn, while Cdex is better if you need a slower pace and more explanation. I think both courses follow a factory approach--little creativity, nothing exciting--but both offer well organized, competent, and effective training.
As was true with VisiCalc, the Banbury book, The IBM/PC and Business Software, goes into significantly more detail than either of the two courses and includes worthwhile practice on a useful program as well. That program keeps track of registration cards for a business product and uses them to set up a mailing list and do sales and marketing analysis. This is a practical approach that goes beyond the Cdex practice exercises. This book is probably the best choice for an individual who wants to learn dBase iI inexpensively and in detail at his own expense, while the interactive courses are better for corporate purchase.
The Power of MultiPlan, from Management Information Service, is a book that teaches the sophisticated use of MultiPlan by working with several applications provided on a template disk. The applications are invoicing from inventory, check ledger, manufacturing estimating, daily inventory, accounts payable, payroll, commissions, and a consolidated production schedule.
The templates are intended mainly for training, but could be adapted to business use. Working through the exercises in the book will lead you to a thorough understanding of MultiPlan. I like having useful templates to work on, rather than having to type everything myself.
Radio Shack provides a audio cassette course with a workbook and a disk containing example text as an integral part of their word processing programs, Scripsit and Super Scripsit. I used Scripsit for years and trained more than 50 employees to use it, and I never felf the need for the tapes, although two or three employees have used them. Normally, I would give ten minutes of instruction to a new emplyoyee, then let him practice for a while. The next day I would give another ten minutes of instruction, and after that he could usually do what he needed, looking up other information on the reference card or asking questions of other employees.
The same is not true of Super Scripsit, which is more powerful and more complex system. Here the tape course is necessary to train an employee with orderly and systematic coverage of the material. While we use Scripsit for letters, memos, and magazine articles, Super Scripsit is used for writing books and software manuals, requiring larger files and more complex formatting. The cassette course comes with eight lessons on both sides of four cassettes and a large looseleaf binder for printed instructions, and I generally have employees study one lesson a day for eight business days. Since the course is multisensory, with audio, visual, and manual components, and the materials on disk, tape and in the workbook reinforce learning, it is very effective. I wish that I didn't have to pay a employee for ten or 12 hours of work to learn the system, and I would prefer a program that did not crash and destroy files as often as Super Scripsit does, but I cannot complain about the effectiveness of the training.