Why Oracle Predicts Learning Boom

What are some of the current trends in the training and education market?
When companies get in dire straits the first thing they cut out is training. Over the past five years or so there has been big push for online education but companies have been reluctant to move in that direction. There has been lots of talk from both corporates and those that deliver the education but now that the economic situation has demanded it, there has been huge upspike to find more creative ways to keep people educated without investing so much time.
Things have converged, there’s been this push but it has not been really utilised, so it gave the organisations that do the delivery valuable time to build the infrastructure to do this right. Now that companies are demanding it, we are ready to use it. We have seen big uptake and now we are getting good results. If we had seen companies taking up online learning few years ago when we thought we were ready for it, it would have been disaster.

How will this help New Zealand?
Now that the infrastructure has been put in place to help with online learning it will enable people in New Zealand to pick and choose what has proved successful in the US.

Let’s get specific – which areas benefit most from online education?
Basic skills training is the first area – people that already have skills but need say, the latest version of Java. The corporate customer has made an investment in set of technology in particular area and then the new release hits the market.
It is expensive to send people back to classroom but online learning is perfect for this kind of situation, as it is convenient and really relevant.
The second area is management training. People who have been promoted beyond the general worker to supervisory capacity usually get the least amount of investment in terms of training and are the slowest to recognise the need.

This seems contrary to expectation. Why is this?
Managers assume they were promoted to that level because they have particular skill set or really good people skills and they don’t recognise it is different job to being general contributor. So the emphasis in the US has been creating short cycle online education geared towards those individuals so HR can insist new managers take this kind of training.
The third area is the net area of certification. This has gone through cycles and has been highly valued in the Asia Pacific region as whole. In the US we went through phase where we had big push in this area and we recognise that certification ensures people have specific skills.
The challenge is how to make gaining the certificate obtainable without making it so that you can just read the book and pass the test but still don’t really know anything. It is balance of giving some people level of confidence but also getting them to realise that gaining certificates is not broad-based education.

Capturing the young market and stimulating an interest in how technology can enhance education is good way to make an impact on young people. This is where large corporates have significant role to play. Tell me about think.com.
Oracle has just launched think.com in New Zealand adopted by the Ministry of Education for schools and students.
Think.com is free web-based collaborative learning environment that fosters communication by linking pupils, teachers and learning programmes via the internet.
Children are given the tools and space to create and share their work online, while teachers are provided the infrastructure to post lessons and homework using visual tools such as multimedia video images accompanied with audio stream. All content is local, with relevant information to New Zealand.
New Zealand is the first country in the Asia Pacific region and the fourth country in the world, after the US, UK and Chile to roll out think.com. There are 23 schools involved in the pilot schemes. There is two-pronged approach – working with schools and also working with school principals to communicate with each other.

What is Oracle’s role in this?
We use our own technology and expertise to try and make difference. We use our core competency to try and help. Larry Ellison, our CEO, has directed us to look at two areas: one is education because he believes passionately in good education.
He doesn’t just mean technology but broad-based good education for young children. Our aim is to really make an impact on children’s educational opportunities. Medical research is his other area of corporate philanthropy. Projects like think.com are long-term process with an 18-24 month adoption cycle. These projects play role in shaping Oracle’s vision.

Clearly there is spin-on effect here – other large corporates see these projects and some of them also pitch in making the most of the attendant PR. Is there lot of competition between corporates offering free services?
Yes, but it all helps to make difference. Oracle calls this pattern “help us help”.
What are some of the problems associated with technology and online learning?
One of the main problems with education has been the silver bullet approach – once school has roomful of new computers it allows the students to use them for one hour week and thinks technology has been taken care of. This is not realistic. Just as with corporates, it is essential that technology is understood from the top down. CEOs and senior managers, school principals and teachers need to understand what technology can and cannot achieve and incorporate it holistically if they want to make the most of their investment.
If school is wired the computers will be in lab and not in the classroom. If there is one computer in the classroom it will be the teacher’s and this limits students’ access. There is lot of over selling of technology in schools. This carries over into the corporate world as technology is often seen as magic bullet that will save the company lot of money.
Companies assume they will need fewer people and everything will be done more efficiently. The reality is that business processes need to be changed to adapt to whatever technology is being placed and this is slow process that requires people to change. It all comes down to focused leadership from the top.
How do you suggest companies keep up with changing technology, keeping the balance between the latest and greatest without always buying the next release?
That’s tough one. It isn’t easy to predict what’s going to be around in the long-term. It is fine balance between being trained and what your business actually needs. I suggest people make an informed decision before automatically buying the latest release by doing return on investment.

Finally, do you have any comments about our recent Knowledge Wave seminars?
I would caution against setting expectations too high. Clearly, knowledge education and having broad skills are critical in the success of New Zealand’s economy going forward.
To counter this, there are other countries that have made huge investment in making sure that their citizens are technology literate and they expected too much too fast.
They thought if they made this investment all the big companies would arrive and give them contracts, and that all their people would get good jobs. But this didn’t really improve the economy of those countries, at least in any long-term way.
Putting the proper emphasis on education and technology will provide people with good base so that as things shift in the world, people here are ready to shift with it.

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