When I saw a press release announcing availability of dog training via webinar, I knew I had to write about it in my blog. I contacted Cheryl Asmus, owner of E-training for Dogs, and she filled me in on the details.
Cheryl started up her online training business when people started calling her and asking how they could get their dogs to behave. Of course there is an established and thriving industry devoted to canine training via books, magazines, instructor-led courses, and weekend seminars/workshops. But Cheryl wondered if it would be possible to teach dog owners proper techniques via the web.
As a college professor with experience in developing formal educational programs, Cheryl decided to approach dog training in the same academic fashion. She reached out to instructors with expertise and credentials in different canine training specialties and asked them to develop class materials that would work when delivered over the web. She provided templates and agenda formats to keep a basic consistency in her "university" courses. As an indicator of her insistence on a quality offering, Cheryl said that developing a new course takes anywhere from six months to a year.
In addition to worrying about course content, Cheryl had to teach herself and her instructors the technical side of setting up online learning programs. After evaluating several technology vendors, Cheryl chose WebEx for her web conferencing platform. She liked the breadth of features available in their product, including the specialized classroom management features in WebEx Training Center. She makes use of online testing and the ability to hand control of the presentation space to a student when necessary. She also makes use of integrated payment processing to charge for her classes.
The technical side was all new to Cheryl when she started. She says that support from WebEx was critical as her needs for assistance progressed from "How do I log in?" to "What video codec is supported for UCF playback on a Macintosh?" She was able to change account managers to get one she felt completely comfortable working with and she has high praise for the technical support she has received from the company. WebEx uses a combination of headquarters support teams and outsourced support lines, and Cheryl said the outsourced support representatives have been just as productive and helpful as the in-house team.
Her enthusiasm for WebEx is tempered by some practical limitations as well. She points out that Training Center does not work well with Macintosh platforms and when an instructor or student uses a Mac, they run the class on the more basic Meeting Center product from WebEx. Keeping video compatibility current with new releases of the Macintosh operating system has also been problematic for WebEx.
Cheryl told me that she has learned several lessons from her early experiences with online teaching. One is that it is always a good idea to record a live session and make it available for student review or for offering as an on-demand video class. Another is that working with videos requires strong, high-speed Internet connections and a lot of testing. She has gone to a technique where online students download class videos rather than trying to watch them stream in real-time. That way everybody finishes watching at the same time and the instructor can take over secure in the knowledge that there are no students still trying to catch up with slow buffer rates.
While the instructors have had varying degrees of comfort with the technical ramp-up and the requirements for online course creation, response from students has been overwhelmingly positive. Cheryl says that she has received numerous comments from attendees who were apprehensive about taking a training course online, but found it to be the best learning experience that they had ever encountered. Many have rated the courses superior to live workshops with dog training professionals.
It's nice to see innovative and unusual applications of web conferencing technology that go beyond corporate communications and lead generation. E-training for Dogs is a fascinating example of how newer technology can be applied to traditional areas of business to create a unique competitive niche in a crowded marketplace.