A few years ago, when General Motors of Canada wanted to create an incentive program to help its salespeople become more knowledgeable, it turned to NTN Communications, a Carlsbad, California-based company that specializes in interactive education and entertainment. NTN, working with 950 dealerships throughout Canada, created an interactive game show that could quiz 6,000 employees simultaneously on everything from a vehicle's horsepower to what types of brakes it has. Before anyone went home, the company was able to announce full results and the names of those employees who had qualified for the finals. The winning team ultimately claimed a $50,000 first prize.
The teams assembled at dozens of sites throughout Canada, all equipped with large monitors and TV screens, and watched a host fire off questions. Using a keypad, participants made their selections, and all the data were stored in a computer at each location. When the 90-minute program ended, final results were sent via modem to the company's headquarters in Carlsbad. There, another computer tallied the results. Almost instantly, the host was able to announce the winners over the satellite network.
According to Jerry Petrie, senior vice president of marketing for NTN, there are several advantages to such training. It's entertaining and fun. There also are incentives to learn. In polls that NTN has conducted, more than 98% of all participants prefer the interactive game shows to conventional learning. To be sure, the shows, which are complete with logos, graphics, text and video segments, can do virtually all the same things as traditional television. Other companies that have used the technology include Goodyear and Porsche.
Game shows aren't the only way in which companies are using this emerging medium. NTN also has devised interactive learning that allows audience members to vote on the outcome that they want to take. By filming different segments ahead of time, the audience and the host can cover the territory that they find most interesting spontaneously. At IBM, its Skill Dynamics subsidiary now is offering highly sophisticated corporate classrooms that allow all the flexibility and spontaneity of a traditional classroom over a satellite-based network.
Each IBM site (there are now 44 nationwide) uses a 25-inch monitor. Each desk is equipped with a student-response unit that allows interconnection with other classrooms and the instructor. The student-response unit has a voice-activated microphone, question and question-cancel buttons, and keypads that allow students to answer questions from the instructor. Dozens of corporations are using this service, including AT&T, DuPont, Ford, General Electric, Mobil Oil, Sears and Wal-Mart. It also will be used for training volunteers and staff at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
"A lot of training is beginning to take place with satellite instruction," says Raymond G. Fox, president of the Society for Applied Learning Technology, located in Warrenton, Virginia. "It's a significant medium that allows companies to create an extended network and save a lot of money. The technology we see now is just the beginning."
Personnel Journal, September 1993, Vol. 72, No.9, p. 86.