LJ Archive


Faster Training for Smarter Customers

Rich Bodo

Issue #125, September 2004

A new nonprofit training center combines open-source course materials, top-ranked instructors and realistic work environments together for classroom or on-site training.

More is involved in information transparency than mere software. In Mountain View, California, we are working on new methods of training using open course materials. The Freedom Technology Center (FTC) is an educational organization founded to provide high-level technical training to local and on-line communities. The curriculum is based on freely available technical courseware and software courses derived from free software or open-source software projects. What follows is an introduction to FTC and a brief report on what we are doing.

Doc Searls points out that IT is being driven more and more from the demand side, and that's the direction from which we approach training. We understand the trend of empowerment that open-source software is a part of, and we are designing training programs to fit into that paradigm. These days, virtually any IT task can be tackled by a smart self-learner who receives a good introduction from a professional. According to the MIT OCW Program Evaluation Findings Report (March 2004), self-learners are far and away the largest group using freely available training materials. FTC is here to give self-learners a solid introduction and, in many cases, a working sandbox. We kickstart self-learners on the road to competence with freely available tools, training and courseware.

For public benefit, we host free training events to boost awareness and competence on open technical courseware. This is the fun part. We have hosted free training events on spam filtering, trusted computing and open hardware. We ran a book donation drive for the Linux Users Group of Iraq and fund-raisers for FTC and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). As a rule, we try to support Linux users groups and organizations, such as the FSF and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wherever we can. In short, we support the generation, dissemination, preservation and protection of technical knowledge whenever possible.

We also kickstart corporate self-learners, providing high-quality, hands-on, modular courses. This is the hard work that keeps our lights on. The only way for us to compete is our quality. FTC offers the highest quality training experience available on the topics that we instruct. Our method is first to identify and recruit the single best trainer for each training class we offer. Our instructors all have written the book on their given topic. With the best possible instructor on a topic, and an all-inclusive, hands-on, practical offering, we keep quality at a maximum. We're not the cheapest for corporate training, but in general, if we can't be the best, we don't offer the course. Lucky for us, high-quality trainers seem to like our style.

Geographically, we serve the local technical community in Northern California and a larger on-line community that can access our course notes over the Internet. Our trainers take paid training courses on the road, matching free seminars for users groups and tradeshows on open courseware with paid events for professional users. If we administer it right, we can offer a self-funding free training event or two in any metropolitan area.

Content-wise, we're focusing on open-source applications that people are using in business right now, and that means Samba and OpenLDAP. We have Linux certification and spam-filtering courses, and we are adding modules covering mail and Web serving. Courses on Linux telephony and security issues will be available soon.

Without profit as our prime motive, we're not bound to train using traditional methods or business models. We can explore new technologies and teaching methods. Right now we're working on a model for training whole IT departments called Immersion Training. We have a lot of experience training in corporate environments, and we think the most efficient way to do that is to drop a training team into a company to merge with an IT team and lead it through the design and implementation of new infrastructure, hands-on. When we get there, the team has no infrastructure or training, but when we leave, it has a basic infrastructure and a completely trained and supported staff, with complete documentation of an entire modular, testable process.

Another thing we've been thinking about is how to get corporate trainers to develop and use open courseware. We think corporate trainers should be hired to customize and teach open courseware for their corporate clients. Open courseware is a great marketing tool for trainers, and more trainers should do it. There really is no financial downside for technical trainers if they know how to market their courseware. But we're not simply discussing the economics of new training models that use open courseware, we're proving them viable.

LJ Editor in Chief Don Marti is a board member of the Freedom Technology Center.

Rich Bodo is a parallel entrepreneur and the Managing Director of the Freedom Technology Center. When he is not discussing or implementing a new business, he likes to read and write business software, science fiction and telephony software. He welcomes your comments sent to rsb@freedomtechnologycenter.org.

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