CDI offers students education through a virtual classroom

For Toronto-based CDI Corporate Education Services’ (CES) clients, the days of chalk scratching and squeaking against the blackboard may soon be over.

Dubbed ‘Synchronous Learning’, a new Internet-based, instructor-led service is being offered through CES’ Internet environment – client-specific Virtual Learning Portals, which are on-line education centres that provide on-line operations and learning support, customized to corporate learning needs.

“Synchronous is when you’re on-line with an instructor at the same time and the learning is really happening synchronously,” said Bill Rasberry, president, CDI Corporate Education Services. “A Virtual Learning Portal is centric to a learner but within the objectives of a business corporation. Our business…is business-to-business so we’re always developing learner portals that match the corporate needs, but when an actual individual comes in it’s learner-centric around them.”

In this browser-based environment, courses are taught using the Internet as a “virtual classroom”. Without travelling or even leaving their computers, students log into a virtual classroom and attend class. They hear the instructor and see lecture slides on their PC screen and can ask the instructor questions or use a messaging window seen by everyone. Students also have the option of sending the instructor a private message and receiving a private response.

The instructor can launch and demonstrate applications from the “virtual blackboard”, as well as hand over control of the blackboard to a student if they wish to demonstrate a concept or software.

According to one Bell Canada employee in Montreal, the course was quite simple to use, but she admitted that if it wasn’t for the two people in the actual CDI classroom she was sitting in making sure everything worked well, the course might have been more challenging.

“It was easy,” said Louise Guerin, technical support manager, Bell Canada. “I know that one of my colleagues was here (Bell offices) and was not on the (CDI) premises and he had some problems with the technology. Because of that you’re missing part of the presentation and of course it’s more difficult to re-enter it or continue to feel like [you’re] involved.”

She went on to say that the material (which normally takes approximately 50 minutes to present) was presented very fast, possibly “too fast. Sometimes it was so fast…you think you understand something then a couple of minutes later…you realize that you probably missed something or you didn’t have the chance to absorb what has been provided to you.”

Rasberry acknowledged the need to ensure that all students are ready before commencing the session, something CDI’s technical support team tries to iron out within the first 10 minutes of the session. However, both Rasberry and CES’ senior consultant, Fred Portoraro, drew attention to technical problems arising because students are going through their company’s firewalls and security systems. CDI plans to install a Hotline for technical support issues.

“Our technical support people have to work frantically within those 10 minutes just to ensure that everybody is connected prior to the launching of the session,” said Portoraro.

Recently, CDI has partnered with Isopia Interactive Network to provide the Web-based infrastructure for an e-Learning Applications Service Provider (ASP) solution and through this connection has outsourced their back end features like security and credit card transactions to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Exodus Communications. Also, CES has signed a letter of intent to acquire Toronto-based boutique training company, The Willcam Group, acquiring high-demand course content such as Java, XML and Perl.

“Together, they position us to deliver world-class educational solutions to our customers – anytime, anywhere, anyplace,” said Rasberry.

CDI currently offers hundreds of asynchronous courses but only a handful of synchronous courses, ranging from networking to Windows 2000. For more information about CDI Corporate Education Services, visit