ANSI - American National Standards Institute

The Changing Options for Delivering Standards Education

By Pamela Suett, Education and Training, American National Standards Institute

Participation in standards and conformity assessment-related education and training programs is no longer limited to the classroom. The speed and convenience of the Internet is quickly advancing the online delivery of educational content. Web-based training and e-learning programs are seen as value-added complements that enhance traditional, face-to-face education and training models. Online learning has also opened the standards education door to new audiences, especially university faculty and students.

This article will explore several methods for delivering standards-related educational content. It will discuss the rationale for some of the electronic delivery methods that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has developed and implemented. Readers can learn some tips and techniques to be considered before embarking on web-based training initiatives. Finally, a Call to Action will be offered for support of outreach efforts to educational institutions and university faculty.


Where We Were: Traditional Classroom Instruction

Since it was founded in 1918, ANSI’s members and constituents have obtained standards-related information, education and training from the Institute. For more than 75 years, those needs were met on an ad hoc basis. In the early 1990’s, however, the expansion of global markets, growing recognition of the significant impact that standards and conformity assessment activities could have on a business, and a new awareness of the importance of a strategic approach to standardization led to a significant increase in the volume of information requests received by ANSI. Understanding the need to enhance its value to members, ANSI established the Education and Training Services Department in 1995.

Members of the Standards Engineering Society (SES) are already familiar with ANSI’s traditional classroom-based method of delivering education. For several years, our organizations have partnered to conduct training programs in conjunction with the SES Annual Conference.   This collaboration has benefited both organizations through combining marketing and promotion efforts and a sharing of resources and income.

The Institute’s educational program does not include technical training or courses on specific standards, as these are the primary responsibility of its members and accredited standards developers. Rather, ANSI focuses on courses that help standards and conformity assessment professionals effectively navigate the myriad processes and procedures of national and international standards development programs.  Some courses provide basic overviews and the fundamentals of standards development; others deliver detailed instruction on committee administration and leadership. Still other courses highlight effective participation techniques in technical committees, tips for consensus building, strategic standardization processes, and conformity assessment programs.

By the beginning of the new millennium, ANSI could see a changing landscape in the way that education and training was being delivered. Following the horrific events of September 11, travel restrictions, travel budget reductions, and overall corporate belt-tightening seriously curtailed non-essential business travel. These conditions accelerated ANSI’s exploration, development and implementation of alternative delivery systems for educational content and standards-related training.

With the approval of the first-ever National Standards Strategy for the United States (NSS) in August 2000, the standards community also began to turn formal attention to the importance of educating public and private sector decision-makers about the value of standards.   To progress the initiatives of NSS Goal 11, ANSI formed an “Ad Hoc Committee on Standards Awareness and Education” comprised of representatives of its members and the higher education community. The committee helped to conduct a needs analysis of industry, organizations, government agencies and university faculty.

Recommendations from the needs analysis and reports supported ANSI’s preliminary observations: the landscape had changed and there was an urgent need to move forward with alternative methods for delivering critical standards-related education. A formal program that would lead to the incorporation of standards and conformity assessment content into the curriculum of institutions of higher learning was also deemed imperative.

With leadership and support provided by committee members, an e-learning education portal, www.StandardsLearn.org, was launched and the Institute’s first e-learning course, Why Standards Matter, was developed in 2002. A database of standards education resources was developed and launched later that same year. Web-based training and “virtual workshops” were introduced in 2003. Also, in mid-2003, the Ad Hoc committee became a permanent “Committee on Education” reporting to the National Policy Committee; Dr. William E. Kelly, professor of civil engineering at the Catholic University of America, chairs the committee.


Where We Are: Distance Learning

Education and Training Services Public and Member Information University Outreach
  • Instructor-led Courses
  • Web-based Training
  • Virtual Workshops
  • E-learning
  • Conferences and Symposia
  • Committee on Education
  • University, High School and Student Outreach Programs

Figure 1: ANSI Education and Training Services

As the world changes, technology advances, and audiences who can benefit from standards-related training grow, the model for providing education and training and outreach must also shift.

ANSI’s approach to education and training services in 2004 is much different than it has been in the past. As shown in Figure 1, the Institute will continue to provide its traditional classroom training – which have been enhanced by new alternative delivery methods that save significant time and expense for the classroom participants. 

Internet-based educational programs complement and enhance the traditional, face-to-face education and training programs that ANSI has been providing since the mid-1990’s. While many methods of delivering training by electronic means (“distance learning”) have not yet firmly establish themselves, synchronous (live) and asynchronous (self-paced) training have gained a solid foothold. These technologies, which enable organizations to provide training via the Internet, are becoming more appealing because the costs to develop and implement e-learning and web-based programs are coming down while travel costs and related security concerns are increasing.

E-Learning

The general definition of e-learning today has changed from “the use of the Internet to deliver courses online” to “enabling, extending, and enhancing learning through the use of technology, including but not limited to the Internet and intranets.” In order to differentiate ANSI’s web-based offerings, e-learning is defined as self-paced, asynchronous (not live) training programs. Other organizations may choose to define e-learning as a PowerPoint presentation with synchronized audio. Yet another option, which relies upon a live instructor delivering content via a phone and Internet connection, refers to ANSI’s definition of “web-based training.”

ANSI’s e-learning strategy was to create a series of three “public and member information” (e.g., no-fee “public service”) programs that would help to raise the awareness of standards and the value and importance of participating in national and international standards development. Two of these courses are now available online and a third is under development and will be finalized during 2004 (see sidebar for more information).

The current e-learning programs were designed to stand alone or serve as preparation for ANSI’s traditional face-to-face, instructor-led programs. E-learning is one of the components in the “blended learning” approach in providing today’s education and training. Blended learning is what has emerged out of the new (post-digital revolution) training of the future.   Essentially, blended learning is a workable solution to integrate online learning with more traditional learning techniques – old and new methods of improving performance and learning working together to give better results.

It is important to remember that all e-learning is not created equal. Choices must be made at each stage of the development process.  

The following guidelines may be helpful:

  • Employ solid instructional design that is specific to web-based training.  The material must be organized so that learners continually build on what they’ve already learned and discover principles by themselves.
  • Use computer technology to engage the learner, but keep it simple. Includegraphics, hypermedia (interactivity, links and browsing) and audio that serve a practical purpose and reinforce the lesson rather than serve as distractions.
  • Keep learners interested throughout the course with engaging and stimulating content, graphics and interactive functions. Multiple-choice questions that are too easy, for example, will not help to reinforce training.
  • Offer tracking tools to measure a learner’s progress and performance.
  • Allow students to return to and review the course at their own pace.

It would be easy to assume that if the right content is created and delivered with the right systems, then learners will respond.   However, developing a distance learning program is not just about content or systems and technology. “E-learners” must be developed. The following suggestions may be useful for those who are considering the development of an online learning environment:

  • First impressions are enduring. Select an interactive, high-impact program for a user’s first e-learning offering. Avoid the drab and mediocre or the learner may not wish to return.
  • Clearly lay out expectations and directions. Many new e-learners do not know what to expect and may need to be guided through the online learning process.
  • Consider a combined learning approach. Start with e-learning as an extension of an instructor-led offering, or let learners take the first component of a class online, followed by a second segment in the classroom.
  •  
  • Anticipate that there will be a multi-month/year acceptance curve. E-learning requires an organizational change and a personal change for individual learners that are accustomed to the classroom.  

E-learning solutions may also be used as a source of revenue for businesses and organizations.   Those who wish to explore this model must first consider all the costs involved and when and if it is possible to recover the related expenses.

When considering the Return on Investment (ROI) model, it is important to remember that potential “customers” will be more likely to pay for e-learning if the content being provided is “have to know” information – such as the technical requirements of a new standard, regulation or code, or licensing or certification requirements – as opposed to “nice to know” or public information.

The expenses involved in the development and maintenance of e-learning vary, of course. The direct cost to launch an e-learning portal and course can range from $10,000 to $100,000 depending upon the level of sophistication and how much is outsourced.   However, many organizations find that the biggest expense is not related to the technology, but rather to the time devoted to content development and project management.  

The start-up and maintenance fees for developing an e-learning portal (an internal or external URL where e-learning programs reside) and e-learning program will vary widely based upon the Learning Management System (LMS) provider and system selected and ongoing usage.

The following items, offered as guidelines only, identify some of the costs to consider:

  • Technology Expenses
    • Initial development of the e-learning portal (one-time fee)
    • Conversion of content (see below) to the Learning Management System (LMS)
    • Yearly maintenance fee for the LMS
      (NOTE: This fee will likely be based on the number of courses hosted by the LMS)
  • Content Development Expenses
    • educating the development team on e-learning best practices
    • developing an effective outline and learning objectives
    • writing engaging text that fits on one computer screen
    • researching and identifying relevant links that support the text
    • developing questions and interesting exercises that support the learning
    • identifying and developing case studies and real-world examples
    • identifying or developing graphics, video or audio
    • editing
    • beta testing

Many first-time course developers often find that it took longer than projected to launch an e-learning program. This is common. Economies of scale will develop over time and with increased experience.

ANSI was fortunate to have the input of a wide range of volunteers and consultants who helped to develop content for its existing programs. Approximately 100 hours of staff time were allocated for content development and project management for each course.

The Institute also worked with an instructional designer from the LMS provider to convert the graphics and text-based material. Some organizations might choose to purchase their own LMS, thereby providing real-time access and direct control over conversion and manipulation of design, graphics, text, and activities.

Virtual Workshops and Web-based Training

Another component of ANSI’s blended learning solution, using the synchronous model, is instructor-led, live, web-based training. A less sophisticated – and therefore less expensive model than e-learning – these “webinars” or “virtual workshops” connect multiple parties via a telephone connection (usually a toll-free call for the participant) and an Internet connection. A slide show and relevant documents are accessible by the participants via their web browsers. There are many “web-conference” providers that have different applications and pricing models for different uses. Rates for a two-hour program are often under $50 – a considerable savings when compared to the cost of face-to-face training.

ANSI uses a web-conference provider that has an on-demand access with no advance reservation plan, receiving a unique URL that is accessible at any time with no usage maximums or minimums.

At present, the Institute’s current instructor-led Internet programming consists of:

  • Web-based versions of several of ANSI’s traditional instructor-led programs. These full-day training sessions are segmented into three two-hour sessions with coffee and lunch breaks between the segments. One of ANSI’s most popular virtual workshops, the American National Standards Development Process: The American Way, allows the staff of ANSI-accredited standards developers to connect for an intensive training session without leaving their own office.
  • Virtual workshops concentrate on a single or focused set of topics. These courses are usually short – often only two hours each – and provide a forum for high-level discussions on specific issues. Recent ANSI sessions include an in-depth exploration of the six stages of international standards development and, in the national arena, the ANSI 2004 ANS Compliance Form and “Essential Requirements.”

Each web-based course or virtual seminar session is facilitated by an ANSI instructor and may include an ANSI staff member from the program area being discussed. The instructor, staff members and participants can be at home, in the office or on the road. An ANSI staff instructor recently broke her toe the day before a virtual workshop and was still able to effectively participate from home.

ANSI’s policy has been to limit the participation in workshops to approximately 15 people to allow for optimum participant interaction. Many of the customized workshops are designed around the key questions submitted by the participants prior to the session. Participants also have any opportunity to ask questions during the session on the phone, or by typing in questions through an online “chat” feature.

Unlike e-learning, which is more enduring, virtual workshops are relatively easy to develop, change and update. Turnaround time from idea to launch could be as little as one month or less. Material can be garnered and excerpted from current training material, based on new material, and on questions from participants that are submitted in advance.

Where We Are Heading: Educational Partnerships

The trends identified above bring into focus ANSI’s attention to web-based educational programs. Yet, as mentioned earlier in this article, the Institute intends to continue to offer face-to-face, instructor-led programs around the country each year.

>Though these courses are the most expensive – both in terms of production for ANSI and for attendance by the student – live, instructor-led training is considered by all to be the most effective, as it best facilitates real-time interaction, in-depth information sharing, and direct response to questions. Few educational opportunities are considered more valuable than meeting and interfacing directly with an instructor, staff support for various programs, and other students.

An effective instructional designer will further enhance these face-to-face experiences by tailoring a course to the specific needs of an audience. It is this philosophy that shapes ANSI education and training services and its view of future educational partnerships.

As an immediate example, and as noted earlier in this paper, many standards organizations provide specific technical training on standards and related topics, but they do not provide general training on participation and effective standards development techniques. By capitalizing on the more traditional training models, customized educational programs have been developed by ANSI and delivered by its instructors in conjunction with numerous technical committee meetings, annual or regional conferences and other sponsored events. Several of the partner organizations have taken advantage of these opportunities to deliver enhanced value, increase member satisfaction and generate additional revenue.

Taking the partnership approaches a step further, the ANSI Committee on Education is moving forward with several initiatives to incorporate standards-related information into the curriculum of colleges, universities, and even high schools.   Several programs are underway that will directly benefit university faculty and students during 2004; these include a partnership project between the U.S. standards community and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The project, known as the “P3 Award,” is a national student design competition that highlights people, prosperity, and the planet – the three pillars of sustainability. Up to 50 project teams – each comprised of college students and faculty – will receive $10,000 grants to research, develop and design sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.

Dr. Kelly, chair of the Committee on Education, identified this project as “the perfect tie-in to Goal 11 of the U.S. National Standards Strategy.” Providing standards-related information and resources to these student teams and their faculty advisors will define a “real-world” relationship between design, standards and conformity assessment, according to Dr. Kelly. He also expects to ask members of the standards community – particularly the ANSI-accredited standards developers – for their commitment of support to providing the resources these student teams need to effectively complete their research and design projects.

Members of the Committee on Education are also developing a “model” tutorial on the fundamental importance of standards and their impact on U.S. competitiveness and global commerce. The presentation is targeted for university faculty and deans and can be used by members of the standards community to help convince university faculty of the need to incorporate standards-related content into curricula. This topic has already been included as a topic for a fall 2004 regional conference of the American Society of Engineering Educators (ASEE) sponsored by ANSI, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Catholic University of America.

It is ANSI’s intent to build effective training partnerships with standards developers, related organizations, companies, government agencies, educational institutions and other groups. By building on the strengths of each partner, resource expenditures will be minimized while maximizing the value to students and standards development participants.

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