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Free Technology Training Coming Soon

Chris Charuhas, President, Visibooks, LLC

The best way to learn new computer subjects is in a classroom with a skilled instructor. However, classroom computer training is expensive and time-consuming. This is problematic for many entrepreneurs leading growth companies: only few can afford to have people out of the office for several days and pay the hefty tuition fees.

Fortunately, the computer how-to business is changing. Soon it will be possible for people to learn computer subjects on their own time. What's more, the tutorials they use to do it will be free.

Technology Training: A Tough Task

Current computer training options make life tough for companies. This scenario shows why:

A "Web 2.0" entrepreneurial company has been using HTML and CSS to develop Web-based applications, but new Flash-based tools make it possible to develop better interfaces. The entrepreneur leading the company knows that it necessary bring their coders up to speed on the new technology.

First, the coders purchase books so they can learn it on their own. This doesn't work. The coders become frustrated because the books are dense, complicated, and hard to use. In other words, they're typical computer books—text equals more value in the publishing world.

Next, the entrepreneur sends its coders to a week of classroom training. The tuition is $350 each per day, and production work stops while they're gone. Total cost: over $5000 in tuition and salary. Even after the training, the coders need expert assistance periodically when they get back into the office. They e-mail their instructor, but the instructor is teaching another class and cannot provide the just-in-time assistance they need.

A New Way to Learn New Technology

Computer how-to materials that make it easy to learn new computer subjects are being created right now. The materials are shifting from print to online format, and their quality is improving as a result. Within a short time, good online tutorials will be available for all sorts of new technology.

Big publishers have started putting books online, in electronic format, at the Safari Web site. Making computer how-to materials Web-based offers several advantages:

  • It's easy to access. There is no need to travel to a bookstore or wait several days for a package from Amazon.com.
  • It is keyword searchable. Thumbing through book indexes, which are often incomplete, is no longer a necessity.
  • Supplemental files are easily downloaded. The bundled CD-ROM, which was easily lost or damaged, is something of the past.

Companies, such as LearnOpenOffice.org and In Pictures, are going beyond books and creating online tutorials from scratch. They are not traditional print publishers and are unencumbered by publishing culture. They are more inclined toward "geek" culture, in which screenshots and diagrams show how things work. Consequently, their tutorials use a lot of graphics. And show is better than tell.

A New Business Model for Online Media

There's another reason why computer how-to materials are going online: Web-based tutorials can contain clickable ads. This is the biggest revolution in computer learning. Instead of selling how-to content, publishers provide content for free in order to sell ads and sponsorship.

"Give our content away? That's crazy!" publishers might say. But it's inevitable, because in electronic media, free content prevails. For example, pay radio services Sirius and XM are struggling, while free, ad-supported stations are doing fine. Boxing is a dying sport on pay-per-view television, but free, ad-supported Mixed Martial Arts is thriving on basic cable.

On the Web, providing free content is even more important. For years, Salon.com charged a yearly subscription fee, but when ad-supported blogs began to offer similar content for free, it had to abandon its subscription model. Faced with competition from ad-supported Google and Yahoo, AOL has done the same.

Innovations in Web advertising have made providing free content a viable business model. Google AdSense has made it easy for companies to place Web ads, and for Web site operators to display them. Blog networks and Web advertising brokers such as Weblogs, Inc. and Federated Media, respectively, have helped popular sites make millions in ad revenue.

Free online computer tutorials can generate revenue through Web advertising. They can generate a lot more through sponsorship. In advertising, ads appear separately from a site's content; with sponsorship, a sponsor pays to provide some of that content. A good example is Techmeme, a technology news blog that mixes "sponsored posts" in with its regular editorial posts.

Sponsorship is particularly well-suited to online computer tutorials because their content is so tightly-focused. For example, a tutorial on Dreamweaver might include information about Fireworks, its companion program. A tutorial on the MySQL might include links to companies specializing in hosting MySQL-driven Web sites.

How does this sponsorship model benefit growing entrepreneurial companies? It means that lots of high-quality tutorials, which will be created with sponsorship dollars, will be available for free.

Tech Training: High-Quality, Free of Charge, and Coming Soon

Entrepreneurs and their teams won't have to wait years to get free, high-quality computer tutorials because other innovative, entrepreneur-led companies are creating them right now.

Checking Google with the phrase "free computer training" every month or two will reveal more and more tutorials. Within a year or so, many good technology tutorials that provide just-in-time training will be available—and free of charge.

© 2007 Chris Charuhas. All rights reserved.

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