Phaedrus, written circa 370 BC is an interesting Socratic dialogue addressing the question of love, but also delving in some depth in the area of rhetoric. In the passages relating to the latter, Socrates puts forward the argument that the spoken medium is superior to the written medium as discourse offers space for questioning, challenging and responding. In addition, Socrates argued that the spoken medium can reach more easily the masses and that writing leads to a weakening of the mental faculties through the reliance on an external agent for recollection. It is somewhat ironic therefore that Socrates’ arguments made their ways through our own age through the written medium, the initial sharing of Plato, the transition through the Arabs and on to the modern age.
Socrates could not have been aware of the revolution that Johannes Gutenberg would bring about in 1439 through his invention of printing but he definitely seems to have eschewed on the potential of a tool and medium that revolutionised the communication of information. We now seem to be at a new junction and further change, as we are now accessing resources and information through a digital revolution. Skillsoft, an e-learning platform is a further step in this direction and provides resources relating to training, preparation for certification, e-books and a conglomeration of other tools that has the potential to change the way information is stored and shared within organisations.
Skillsoft is an international e-learning platform present in 58 countries and represented in Malta by ISL. The Skillsoft platform has grown over the years through organic development as well as mergers and acquisitions and is now used by over 15 million users worldwide.
The scope of the platform might initially come across as daunting with access to literally thousands of assets and courses divided into Business Skills, IT and Desktop Courseware the user might find it challenging to decide at which point to start off from. This is where the role of a good manager comes in the tool presents the resources, however the identification of gaps and training needs should definitely precede any attempt at implementation. Once courses are selected, end users will then access to a portal containing the target material selected, potentially branded with the company colours and logos. The training manager will be able to assign study areas, track user progress, and see which courses have been started and completed.
The Skillsoft product features content and material that can allow users to achieve certification in over one hundred distinct areas, covering business and IT programmes of relevance ranging from six sigma, software development, networking (CCNA, CCNP, CISA and others), Project Management (Prince 2, PMP, Agile and others), and desktop products. Users can be presented content relating to these areas, but Skillsoft also offers additional tools to allow persons to prepare for exams and certification. As all training managers will be aware of, training and certification in the mentioned areas is important, but expensive, and Skillsoft can allow good savings to be made through its structure and assets.
The product catalogue allows the provision of access to assets relating to test preparation (challenging questions, relating to the material covered), business impact series (content addressing areas that are directly relevant to business needs), challenge series (top notch and fun interactive tasks allowing identification of consequences following specific courses of action) as well as mentoring support. Mentoring takes the form of direct, chat-based interaction with subject matter experts, who can provide guidance and address issues encountered during the review of content material.
All material in Skillsoft is web based meaning that there is the possibility and potential for users to gain access to the resources from different devices. Through a username and password, individuals would be able to access content from the company’s training room, laptops or from a PC at home if granted access. As a word of caution, at present a good part of the content is Flash based meaning that users might not be able to access some assets through smartphones or tablets (although Skillsoft representatives have confirmed that content accessible through mobile is in the works). An important asset of the Skillsoft platform is that the content and material can be revisited as often as required so users will not end up ‘stuck’ after a training session unless they internalised the material or took notes. A simple log-in will grant access to resources, mentors and all that would have been covered.
Skillsoft also offers the means to develop a course structure without the need to make micro selections the Knowledge Center offers the opportunity to make high-level selections and will grant the user access to material relating to a key subject matter. For example, in selecting the human resources Knowledge Center, one would gain access to a collection of Business Impact Series, Challenge Series, a Practice Zone with links to relevant articles. This in effect allows a company to help build the knowledge base in its workforce without the need to go into detail as to what each course offers.
Additional assets in the product include the Leadership Development Channel which includes bite-sized videos covering areas of interest for executives, who mightwish to use these for PR initiatives within the organisation or for pushing forward specific messages in a targeted manner. The Leadership Advantage series also covers ‘must have’ information on leadership subjects and offers short courses of two hours duration. A further important asset in the Skillsoft portfolio is the provision of access to e-books there are literally thousands of books available for review through agreements with over 300 publishers worldwide. Content is relevant and up to date and the e-books feature key tools the possibility to skip directly to specific chapters, and tools to annotate and review. Business content is well covered throughout.
Some might eschew e-learning platforms for their emphasis on content rather than direct faceto-face communication. Doing so, however misses the point in that these tools should not be seen as a replacement of traditional learning, but as a new way of doing things. When Socrates highlighted the weaknesses inherent in the written medium he definitely missed out on the positive characteristics relating to distribution, permanence, and resource effectiveness.
As far as e-learning tools go, Skillsoft is one of the larger, better organised and occupationally relevant in the market place. Content is rich and the level of support provided exceptional. Further developments are warranted (particularly in enhancing mobile compatibility) however the product is an amazing tool which can redefine how learning takes place within a working environment.
ISL can offer free trial access to the system meaning that there is the possibility of taking a well informed decision prior to taking the plunge in the investment of resources. including summaries,