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Yahoo! Unveils E-Learning Solution

Last week Yahoo! Broadcast Services (business.broadcast.com) unveiled its online training solution, targeting the growing e-learning space. Yahoo! is using its familiar three-pane window interface — made popular by Yahoo! FinanceVision — to deliver multimedia presentations to corporate users.

According to Jeff Robertson, marketing director at Yahoo! Broadcast, e-learning is a big opportunity. Yahoo! got started in the e-learning space two years ago by helping clients, like Texas Instruments and SYSCO Foods, do customized training sessions online. With suggestions from clients, Yahoo! decided to make it a dedicated solution.

Robertson said that many companies are turning to e-learning because it speeds knowledge and enhances learning. Although many companies start out with text-based e-learning, webcasting adds a crucial element, he said. Most text-based e-learning solutions also include a learning management system (LMS), which are complex software solutions tied to company databases.

But Robertson said the biggest shortcoming to traditional e-learning solutions is speed of deployment. "Integration can be a 12 to 18 month project," he said. "Each course takes 90 to 100 days to be programmed." Webcasting, he said, is deployed much faster.

Specifically, Yahoo! is targeting four solutions within e-learning: sales training, new hire training, customer education and CRM training. According to Robertson, the e-learning solution is ideal for things like product tutorials, software demos, role playing, sales information, customer service management and safety compliance.

Yahoo!'s e-learning solution is not an enterprise-wise system, however. Robertson said it was created for on-demand access (not live) for small groups or departments. "We're finding most of the value comes in the archive, so people can tap into a referencable expert" said Robertson. Still, he said Yahoo! could do live training.

One of Yahoo!'s customers, SYSCO Foods, one of the largest food distributors in the U.S., recently trained about 7,000 sales representatives on their wide range of products. Previously, SYSCO used to ship videotapes to its sales force. Now, with streaming, the company put together an online session on beef, which showed different cuts and a demonstration of an actual beef cutting. According to Robertson, SYSCO saw increased sales in the double digits, and a "huge" savings, decreasing cost per person trained. Specific ROI numbers aren't available because SYSCO is wary of the competition.

Pricing ranges from $250,000 to "several million," said Robertson. But price also depends on the scope of the material, the number of students, and other factors.

The solution comes with a training management system, which companies can use to add new students, register them, add new courses, track progress and tests and get reports on attendance, among other things. It comes with a web-based self-publishing tool that be used behind a firewall.

Yahoo! will also keep a course library of standard content, as well as help with production services through its network of audio/video production partners.

Conferences, Online

With restrictions and worries about air travel, some conference companies are looking to put their events online. Last week, Yahoo! also unveiled its other webcasting component, a "virtual conference" solution, for companies looking to put their events online. A single-day conference with multiple tracks starts at $80,000, while a five-day session is $350,000.

Already, companies are turning to online conferences to boost attendance and even earn some revenue. A few weeks ago, RealNetworks put its entire RealConference 2001— including keynotes and conference sessions — online. Those who couldn't fly up to Seattle for the show could attend every session virtually for $199.95. But reports from some online attendees showed that RealNetworks had some technical glitches to work out. During the conference, there were bad links, audio/visual difficulties, and frequent dropouts.

Still, RealNetworks called it a success, saying that there was "more than 2,000 live online attendees from 45 countries." "We are very pleased with this turnout especially given that we only promoted the online conference a week prior to the conference's start," said a company representative via e-mail.

No mention, however, was made as to the number of actual paid online viewers. RealNetworks said that adding the online portion almost quadrupled their overall attendance.

Other companies are getting into the virtual conferences. Generic Media and JagNotes.com said they were providing online tradeshow for companies. Generic Media recently hosted an online conference for Xilinx, a semiconductor company, which is streaming its entire "Terabit Networking Forum 2001," including seminars and keynotes.

So far Yahoo! hasn't announced any customers for its virtual conferences, but it's fair to assume that more and more conferences will go online soon.

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