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MPE Training: How Are We Learning?

By Glenn J. Koster, Sr.

There are those who believe that business has entered a new era, dubbed the Information Age. In this age, companies who continue to train and expand their corporate knowledge base will continue to thrive and grow. Companies who fail to heed this call will simply languish by the wayside and fall victim to their own lack of foresight. Because of this trend, training has become the mandate of the ’90s in many boardrooms. This trend is no different in the world of information technology. In fact, technology is often used to drive the new training paradigm.

The HP 3000 community has yet to realize any noticeable training benefits resulting from the dawning of this age. Data from the Web highlights this point. A quick search of it yields a scant 11 companies which provide any sort of training for the HP 3000. Eight of these firms provide product-specific training on the HP 3000 or training for the highly technical disciplines of systems management and capacity planning. Neither of these alternatives addresses training for general MPE principles for end users, support staff or programmers. One of the remaining three firms is HP. HP has a decided advantage and vested interest in MPE training. This leaves two independent companies that truly provide MPE training. One has no regularly scheduled classes, providing all classes on demand. The other firm provides no classroom-style training.

Let’s look at this MPE training issue from yet another angle. There are four commonly accepted methods of providing training: manual learning, classroom instruction, computer-based training, and Web-based training. Each of these methods is currently utilized in MPE training scenarios. Each method has both advantages and disadvantages. No single answer can, nor should be, the complete MPE training solution. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into these alternatives.

Manual learning” is the most difficult method to learn from. The student is left to learn on his own using any available means, including perusing manuals, questioning the “gurus”, and trial and error. Truly not an effective method of instruction, but probably the most common technique employed in the MPE community. Some problems with this approach include a paucity of current manuals in most MPE shops, the slowness of the learning process, and the inability to determine and utilize the more intricate features of the operating system.

As with most approaches, this method does have some merit. The student is allowed to learn according to his or her own pace. Training expenses are extremely low, as the only expense is employee time. A student only learns what is needed for a particular task, bypassing the fogginess that often accompanies mass training. This method recently achieved a big boost when HP migrated most of the system manuals to the Internet for access by all.

Another useful arrow in the quiver of firms that choose to train this way is the HP3000-L list. Experienced people are standing by to take your questions. Their answers are often insightful, informative, witty — and correct!

The more traditional approach to training is the classroom or instructor-led training model. HP and most other vendors who do any type of training under the MPE umbrella have generally utilized this approach. The most obvious obstacle to learning in the classroom is the expense of such courses — regardless of whether they are taught in a central training location or on-site. Costs for this model include travel, lodging, high tuition expenses, and the maintenance of a classroom and equipment. Classroom-style courses are very inflexible.

Whether you are an end user trying to learn the operating system or a programmer new to the 3000 that needs to know how the compilers and commands work, in a classroom everyone is taught at same instruction level and covers the same course content. This method provides little flexibility for individual schedules or learning abilities. The advantage of this instruction method is that often these courses are taught by those who know the system inside and out. The classroom approach also allows one to meet with others who are on the same learning curve. There is something to be said about realizing you are not alone! Finally, the classroom setting allows one to “get away from it all” and be free of the distractions associated with being in the office.

As the classroom approach has been implemented by HP, the basic courses are taught in week-long modules. A new system administrator, in order to achieve and effective level of knowledge, must sit through a minimum of three week-long courses. If an end user needed to be introduced to the nuances of the HP 3000, HP does not have a solution that provides only what the user needs. Instead, the general end-user learns about such things as backups, disc space management and system configuration.

In the mid ’70s, computers began to occupy a prominent place in the business environment. At the same time, a great deal of emphasis was given to a new method of learning — computer-based training, or CBT. HP has used this method in the past, although with little regularity and even less success. The most notable course offering from HP employing this method of instruction is the Posix file system course still be found on most HP 3000 systems, POSIXCBT.LSN.SYS. HP also employed this technique with the introduction of the PA-RISC architecture during the mid-80s. The basic coursework for HP’s “Using the 900 Series HP 3000” included modules for both beginning users and advanced skills learning. These courses are now available on the Internet. A word of caution: they have not been updated with the recent changes to MPE.

An early pioneer in CBT efforts for MPE training was Innovative Software Solutions. Not only does ISS provide a quality CBT course for MPE; they also provide a tool to allow firms to develop their own internal CBT courses. Despite the quality of the training modules provided, a number of HP 3000 users have expressed disappointment with the services of ISS. The largest problem facing a prospective student is actually getting in touch with ISS. In writing this article, I have made numerous attempts to contact ISS by both phone and e-mail, without reply.

The advantage of CBT is that such courses allow a user to learn according to his or her own pace and schedule, without leaving their site. It also allows users to be flexible in bypassing modules which they feel are unneeded for what they are trying to accomplish.

CBT has received a great deal of attention and press in the last several years because of the use of multimedia in training CBT modules. Unfortunately, the MPE world has been left behind. All of the CBT modules that are known to exist for MPE are 3000 based — and none has been updated to use any multimedia methodology. Consequently, one of the biggest obstacles to CBT training for the 3000 is the fact that a persistent connection to the 3000 is still required.

The newest technological wave to rock the training world is Web-based training. Web-based training, when implemented correctly, provides the opportunity for tremendous savings in terms of both time and money. There are no travel expenses. Often the tuition is minimal, as there are usually no instructor costs and no physical classrooms to maintain. The courses are traditionally accessible 24x7. Students are allowed to proceed at their own pace and in accordance to their schedules. On the negative side, most courses have no instructor immediately available, so often a pupil has a sense of learning in a vacuum. Most Web courses have no “host access” prohibiting quick employment of principles learned. Development costs for such courses usually run into the tens of thousands of dollars preventing many would-be entrepreneurs from entering the arena with courses which have an obviously limited audience.

In this Web-based training category, HP currently stands alone. Unfortunately, it is a futile stand. The current course catalog for MPE lists six Web-based courses. None of these courses provide an entry into the basics of MPE learning. HP has further reduced the effectiveness of its Web-based offerings by dictating that Web courses will be offered at set times and will require a simultaneous conference call connection. HP has publicly committed to adding courses on a regular basis, but unfortunately there has been no statement regarding the mix of MPE courses with other HP education offerings.

One of the most interesting developments within Web-based training in recent weeks is HP’s announcement in March that they have selected the TEAMS advanced training and management system from LeeTech Software, Inc. This system will allow HP to track and monitor all internal training needs and progress with a state-of-the-art system. But it really goes beyond that. TEAMS also contains a course development module that should allow HP to scrap their internal development efforts and effectively reduce development costs of new Web-based courses. Only time will tell whether this development will make a difference.

Glenn J. Koster, Sr. has been involved with the HP 3000 since 1976 and the days of the Series I, teaching at both the corporate and college level, both MPE newbies and experienced gurus. He is currently a consultant and trainer for Fort Collins, Colo.-based consulting firm Managed Business Solutions (970.224.1016). “As a trainer, I have had the responsibility of establishing the current MPE curriculum for MBSU,” he said. “The steering committee of MBS University is currently exploring ways to migrate the vast sea of knowledge to a true Web-based training curriculum.”

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