Easy As ABC

Battling Scarcity

While some complain that Web training lacks supplementary materials, small businesses are finding a silver lining. "There's little off-the-shelf Web-based material available. So most are customized for companies," says Oakes. "This is [spurring] the use of Web-based training by smaller businesses."

Can you afford to commission your own classes? By Oakes' estimate, you need at least 100 students for a custom course to make economic sense. And he's assuming a willingness to pay $100 or more per student. Although the per-student price is realistic, small businesses rarely muster 100 students. Does that shut you out of this educational trend?

Not exactly. "We're beginning to see wider availability of off-the-shelf courses that will appeal to small businesses," says Hall. A case in point: CBT (http://www.cbtsys.com) has put up a storefront with 900-plus titles, ranging from "Everyone Sells" (sales training for those who don't see themselves as salespeople) to "Setting Up A Web Site." While some courses carry four-figure price tags, many are priced below $200.

More courses are found at DigitalThink (http://www.digitalthink.com), a San Francisco-based start-up that aims at small businesses with classes such as "Microsoft Word 97" ($99) and "Home Sweet Home Page" ($195).

Even better deals are found at ZDU (http://www.zdu.com), where subscriptions are sold by the month ($7.95) or year ($69.95), and one fee buys all the courses you can swallow, with topics ranging from "Microsoft Office 2000" to "Building an Online Community."

Still more classes are available from the San Francisco start-up HeadLight (http://www.headlight.com), whose goal is to meet the learning needs of employees in small and midsized businesses. By year-end, co-founder Scott Mitic says HeadLight will offer 1,000 classes, priced between $50 and $400.

Sort through the offerings, and, while the materials readily available to small businesses aren't yet abundant, you'll find the numbers are increasing. Should you start investigating the Web-based offerings, for both yourself and your staff? Absolutely. "Companies are under increasing pressure to provide training to employees, and Web-based learning has proved itself both effective and cost-effective," Hall says. "At all sizes of companies, we're seeing a big shift from focusing on classroom instruction to Web-based learning. And Web-based training is getting results."

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This article was originally published in the October 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Easy As ABC.

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