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Microsoft Launches Distance Learning Initiative

New training method allows those who want to take advantage of instructor-led training to do so -- without leaving the office.

Microsoft launched on Nov. 14 its Microsoft Official Distance Learning initiative (MODL), a blended learning program that uses Microsoft Office Live Meeting to conduct MCT-led classes, which students then reinforce with self-paced homework assignments and scenario exercises.

According to MODL Innovations Product Manager Wendy Johnson, MODL is a more productive and convenient alternative to previous learning program models, which typically cram lessons into a mere five days, and require students to leave their offices for the classroom.

By contrast, Johnson said, each MODL class is spread over a five-week period, with ample time between classes to review and practice the concepts covered. And since the classes are online, employees will have to worry less about sacrificing productivity.

"This model ... breaks it down in such a way that the student is able to get that learning, but spread out over time in such a way that they can keep up with their daily tasks," Johnson said. "The core of the course experience is about trying to provide enough time."

A typical MODL session is divided into four parts, according to Johnson: a two-hour virtual classroom session via Live Meeting, one hour of homework, one hour of scenario exercises and a 10-minute feedback assignment.

The scenario exercises, hosted by Pleasanton, Calif.-based Toolwire, are the centerpiece of the MODL program. Each scenario is designed for a specific IT position, and outfits the student with access to a live server to perform "day-in-the-life" tasks.

While much of the emphasis of the MODL program is on the convenience of self-paced learning, equal importance has also been placed on increasing student interaction, which risks getting lost in a distance learning environment.

"There are going to be a lot of interactions and a lot of activities that students have to reply to, write on, et cetera," Johnson said. "There's a lot of great interaction, students working together to solve the problems. And there's also a nice anonymity, where the students can feel free to answer the question -- even if they aren't sure of the answer -- because they're sitting there at their desktop and not being watched by their peers."

MODL is available exclusively through Microsoft Certified Partners for Learning Solutions. According to the program's Web site, there are currently three courses on Microsoft Server 2003 available, with more courses to come next year. For more information on MODL, including course availability, go here.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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