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Training Resurrections: Disc-Based Training Revived

Mark Fritz

The one-page announcement is easy to miss: "iDVD: One Giant Step for Mankind."

Unlike its more recently announced namesake, the much-ballyhooed authoring axis of Apple's new on-board DVD strategy, this iDVD is buried among the 81 pages of KeyStone Learning Systems' course catalog, which lists 1,200 self-paced courses for IT training. All the courses (except this iDVD one) are distributed on either CD-ROM or VHS tape.

Even buried in the catacombs of the KeyStone catalog, this announcement beckons like a beacon hawking true-tread tires to the winter evening sky. In a world where courseware vendors have rushed to the Web like lemmings to the sea, KeyStone Learning Systems has dared to be different, dared to embrace a disc-based technology (DVD) as a platform for training. Just think, most of us had given up hoping for this sort of thing years ago...

But Jean-Pierre Isbouts doesn't think his company is doing anything risky or audacious, and he can't figure out why he has no competitors. Isbouts is chief technology officer for Global Learning Systems, the larger company of which KeyStone is a subsidiary. Isbouts says that DVD technology came of age (and of market penetration) at least a year ago. DVD hardware is standard, available, and inexpensive, and it has the capacity/ bandwidth to deliver quality multimedia and video. This makes it the perfect medium for interactive training.

It's All in the Delivery

KeyStone's iDVD began life about a year ago, the brainchild of industry veterans Jean-Pierre Isbouts and Bernie Luskin, Global Learning Systems' vice chairman. Do the names sound familiar? Both men are former Philips employees with roots reaching back 20 years to the days of interactive videodisc, and both are popularly considered multimedia pioneers.

Isbouts says that about a year ago he and Luskin took a good look at the state-of-the-art of Web-centric e-learning. "We felt that e-learning was a major step back," says Isbouts. "Sure it provides tracking and scoring, which is great, but as far as multimedia goes, Web-based training takes us back to the 1980s, to the early days of CD-ROM. Bernie and I felt interactive training should be moving forward, not backward."

While KeyStone/Global does not intend to follow the courseware vendor crowd to Web dependency, neither does it intend to ignore the Web. The Web provides too many good things-tracking, assessments, reporting, scheduling, and updating. Global sees iDVD as the perfect compromise between disc-based and Web-based training. It is a best-of-both-worlds training solution that can deliver more than either medium can do independent of the other, according to Isbouts. "iDVD marries e-learning to a high-capacity carrier (a DVD disc) without the constraints of bandwidth you experience on the Web," he says.

Isbouts believes the iDVD courseware products will appeal to Fortune 500 companies who want to move their courseware to the Web but are frustrated by the bandwidth limitations of the Internet. He also recognizes that these limitations are not likely to change anytime soon. Neither does he see streaming video over the Internet as a currently feasible multimedia training solution. Not only does streaming video face bandwidth issues, but it also suffers from lack of standards. DVD, Isbouts points out, is "an established international standard that is guaranteed to be stable and universally supported for a very long time."

Joint Venture

iDVD is actually a joint venture between Global and its KeyStone subsidiary and Panasonic Disc Services Corporation (PDSC) of Torrance, California. Isbouts calls Panasonic DSC "the premiere DVD advanced technology center in the U.S." He says that, "While most Japanese electronics manufacturers like to keep their R&D facilities close to home-i.e., in Japan-Panasonic's primary DVD engineering facility is right here in California."

PDSC will provide Web-connection technology that will (among other things) give iDVD the ability to serialize individual DVD replicas. This is based on Panasonic's BCA serialized replication technology, which is on its way to becoming an important industry standard, according to Isbouts.

Under the joint agreement, PDSC will also provide disc-pressing services, while Global will provide marketing and production. KeyStone will provide content from its 1,200-course catalog. Global also has its own multimedia and DVD production studio in Los Angeles, called Pantheon Productions. This facility will be jointly held by Global and PCSC, and serve as a full-service development and post-production center for iDVD applications.

Integral to the iDVD's Web-connected power is Web access to a Learning Management System (LMS). Users of iDVD will be able to take advantage of Global's LearningVista LMS, or they can opt to use any other LMS on the market, says Isbouts. Global will also offer learning management services over the Internet using a "hosted ASP" model, according to Isbouts. He also notes that Global is working hard to make iDVD courses compliant with emerging LMS standards for courseware portability. "And we will be sure to stay in step as these LMS standards evolve," he asserts.

Training Interactions

Today's KeyStone Learning Systems catalog offers only one iDVD course-"Beginning Windows 2000," which sells for $69. The company says that an iDVD version of its Office 2000 course will also be available shortly. After that, the company will sort through its 1,200 courses to select prime projects for repurposing.

But Isbouts says Global Learning Systems does not intend to limit itself to in-house content. In fact, the company will offer iDVD technology to anyone who is interested, even competing courseware vendors. "This is not just KeyStone technology," he says. "We will license this technology to corporate clients so they can try it themselves within their own training networks." The company is already talking with other publishers and content providers who are considering using iDVD as a training platform. Isbouts makes it clear that he wants iDVD to be more than a one-hit wonder from one company. Like an evangelist, he wants this Global technology to become truly global.

Today, iDVD is aimed primarily at computer users with pre-installed DVD-ROM drives and modems for Internet connection. Isbouts concedes that most of the widely installed DVD-Video players are less than ideal for iDVD since they have no built-in modems for Internet connection. But he says that the industry insiders at Panasonic tell him that this situation will soon change. Many manufacturers are talking about building Web connectivity into their next-generation movie players. He also notes that iDVD discs are playable in Sony's popular PlayStation 2 game machines, and predicts that iDVD discs will also work in many future DVD-capable interactive TV set-top boxes.

Isbouts sees iDVD as a darling of convergence that will feed off of DVD-Video's market popularity while taking advantage of the manufacturers' economies of scale. "It isn't often that consumer electronics and corporate training come together like this-iDVD is one of those rare occasions."

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