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Tuesday
Apr071998

33 - Five Questions to Ask a Vendor

1. Five Questions to Ask a Vendor. One of the most frequent requests that we receive at The MASIE Center is for help in understanding the difference between hype and reality in the claims of vendors. This is not an easy task. We have found very few vendors that are not telling the truth, but there are some that are deeply confused about what is doable NOW and in the FUTURE. Here are a few of the questions that we use to try to place vendor claims in perspective:

a) What are your commitments to standards? For instance, if you go out of business in two years, what industry wide standards are you using that would protect my investment in content or infrastructure?
b) When is your technology not appropriate? (Note: Any vendor that says it works ALL THE TIME is under a degree of delusion. It is critical that you are dealing with a vendor that understands the limitations of technology delivered learning, just as it is critical to understand the limitations of classroom delivery).
c) What is the largest installation of your technology that is now in place? And, can we talk to this client/customer. Also, what were the "soft" costs involved in implementing the technology.
d) What is the number one greatest competitive threat to this technology on the horizon?
e) How do you expect your technology to change in the next 6 months, 1 year, 3 years and beyond?

I would love to get additional questions from TechLearn Readers to add to this list. It is not meant to be vendor unfriendly, but rather to help us all evaluate the exciting new emerging learning technologies with a clear head.

2. TechLearn LIVE! Video Available for Cost. We have had an enormous number of requests for videotapes of our recent TechLearn LIVE! video. So, we will make this available to you at our cost of duplication, handling and shipping. The 3 hour video will be duplicated and sent to you in VHS format for the cost of $19. We cannot handle billing requests, so please plan on paying with either a check or credit card. Go to www.masie.com/live/ to order this tape.

3. Here is a great reply to the TechLearn Trends article on learner interruption. Jennifer Stone Gonzalez, gonzalez@epix.net writes:

We had the same problem with interruptions at US WEST when we were doing our Lotus Notes training. Members of the Strategic Marketing Department received Lotus Notes training at their own desktops via conference calls. It was a fabulous online/interactive training method, but it meant that the students were very vulnerable to interruptions. After one frustrating training round, we decided to proactively protect all future students' training time, and used a threefold strategy:

(1) A week before the training, we distributed a paper memo to everyone in the department asking for cooperation in the online training initiative. The memo included an explanation about why the training was being offered (i.e the business need for the Lotus Notes training), the training dates and times, and the students' names.

(2) We printed special 8 1/2 x 11 signs on very bright yellow card stock that read "Lotus Notes Training in Progress. Please Do Not Interrupt" and distributed them to our students. Each student hung the sign on their office door or cubicle about a half hour before training began. People told us that the signs themselves offered a great deal of protection from interruptions. Times when other people ignored the signs and just barged in during online training, the students were able to point at the signs, and their quick, silent gesture sent the intruders away.

(3) Last, we asked the students to turn off their pagers and to program their voice mail for auto answer. (Most students had wanted to do this, but were waiting for someone to "give them permission.")

The strategy worked at all levels (from VP to administrative assistant). In fact, it was very interesting how the training symbols became integrated into the organizational culture. For example, people would say things like "Jane? I know she's busy right now. She's got a yellow Notes sign up." One manager asked me to lend him a yellow sign on a permanent basis so that he'd have more time that would be free from interruptions. I had thought that he was joking, but he was dead serious.

Our three-part strategy to protect our students from interruptions had an interesting secondary consequence: it demonstrated that we were taking the training initiative very seriously, and consequently others did as well

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