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Online the Ivy’s Virtual, But Learning’s Real
This article by Vivian Fransen was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 24, 1999. All rights reserved.
Despite all the other changes in the business landscape,
one central New Jersey industry, a cornerstone of the economy, has
remained remarkably consistent: higher education. Led by the 250-year-old
Princeton University and the ethereal Institute for Advanced Study,
the academic community has given Princeton a worldwide reputation.
Some of the newcomers to the higher education field have actually
been fly-by-night operations, simply using a Princeton mailing address
to give the illusion of academic excellence.
Now, however, two new educational institutions have surfaced on the
Princeton landscape. Princeton Learning Systems Inc. reports that
enrollment in its Financial Services University has swelled to more
than 40,000 corporate users and that it has entered into a collaboration
with the Chauncey Group International, a for-profit subsidiary of
Educational Testing Service, to provide additional services focusing
on healthcare and government.
And meanwhile a name synonymous with finance and information, Dow
Jones, has added a structured educational thrust to its business.
Earlier this year it formed Dow Jones University, with an initial
choice of six courses on financial investment principles, tactics,
In addition to the prestigious Princeton address, both of these new
"universities" have one other element in common: They are
both online. While these ventures are designed to serve distinctly
different needs and purposes, they both share a confidence in the
value of structured educational experiences afforded to individuals
who have access to Internet technologies. They are both hoping to
hone their skills in what is becoming a new field: Learning technology.
Launched in January of this year, Dow Jones University (DJU) now offers
its courses in investment principles directly to consumers exclusively
through its website: http://dju.wsj.com. Each of the courses,
which cost $49 apiece, consists of six lessons, using text, graphics,
audio and video clips, interactive features, and online quizzes. Each
one of the six lessons takes about 60 minutes to complete. And each
student’s passwords are valid for eight weeks, which allows unlimited
access to the Dow Jones Interactive Journal (which otherwise would
require a subscription fee).
The course instructors include writers and columnists from the Wall
Street Journal, and the online format encourages interaction between
students and teachers as well as among students. "The element
that makes this different is the Internet itself," says Chris Matthews,
director of strategic marketing, consumer products, who participated
in the launch of Dow Jones University. "With chat rooms, and E-mail
students can participate anytime they want. There are actually increased
opportunities to ask questions."
Matthews, whose father is a professor at Old Dominion and whose mother
is a retired schoolteacher, earned his undergraduate degree at the
University of Virginia (Class of 1983) and went to business school
there prior to going into consumer banking. Working in marketing at
NatWest Bank, Matthews recognized that "a large segment of the
consumer population wanted to be in control of its finances —
they were looking for empowerment. At the same time the online world
was coming into being. I thought there would be tremendous opportunities
in the merger of those two forces."
Dow Jones University, Matthews says, was "designed
to break even in its first year. And we are pretty much on target."
Why take a DJU online course instead of reading an article or a book?
"While it’s true that an online course and a book share some of
the same characteristics (that is, allowing self-pacing and accessibility
at any time), our DJU students report that the online experience offers
a different style beyond simply being an academic exercise," says
Ken Twining, editor and general manager of DJU.
Twining grew up in Ohio and Massachusetts, where his father worked
as a chemical engineer and his mother was a registered nurse. A history
major at Vassar, Class of 1972, he has worked at Dow Jones for 25
years. "The content is written conversationally, with current
news items inserted as examples. And the online ability to ask questions
to the instructor, via the Professors Mailbag feature, and scheduled
chat room sessions with other students, helps the text come alive,"
says Twining. One student taking DJU’s "Tools and Techniques of
Technical Analysis" course remarked that he found the online course
much more effective in helping him understand the issues than studying
a book covering similar content.
Given the convenience, accessibility, and affordability factors, what
are the drawbacks to online learning? "Taking an online course
takes discipline and dedication from a student," says Twining.
For those who are accustomed to Web surfing (scanning many sites at
one sitting) and Web diving (combing through reams of information
to find a specific nugget of information), the concentration required
to master content presented online may require a different rhythm
for people to adopt. Students soon discover that an online course
is more than an electronic page-turner.
"There are lots of investment-oriented websites out there,"
says Twining. "Whereas many sites simply post article after article
on a particular subject, our DJU course instructors bring information
together to convey a structure and context for students to absorb
the key concepts."
DJU courses are designed to reach individual investors, ranging from
those who are relative novices to those with sophisticated sensibilities
toward financial matters. "I received an E-mail from a man with
a Ph.D. and 30 years of experience in finance who commented that our
online course was valuable and useful to him," says Twining. And
given the global reach of the Internet and the news reach of the Dow
Jones branding, online students participating in the first offering
of DJU courses include people from Europe, Asia, and South America.
"The primary motivation for people taking our online courses is
their desire to better understand how to invest effectively,"
says Twining. While no formal credit or certification is given for
successfully completing a DJU course at this time, Twining notes that
students are requesting a mechanism be developed to document their
"Our online courses fit perfectly with the Dow Jones corporate
mission to provide timely, reliable business news and financial information
to help business people and investors," says Twining, who admits
that even he has learned a few lessons from the content. "After
completing our online `Planning and Investment for Retirement’ course,
I made some phone calls the next day to make a few personal changes."
While Dow Jones’s plunge into the "university" mode may give
it some valuable insight into the learning technology business, don’t
expect it to introduce courses in basketweaving or pop psychology.
"It becomes a question of what are Dow Jones’s core competencies,"
says Chris Matthews. "We are going to play to our traditional
Route 1, Box 300, Princeton 08543-0300. Dorothea Coccoli Palsho, president.
609-520-4000; fax, 609-520-4010. Http://www.djinteractive.com.
Dow Jones University website: http://dju.wsj.com
The motivation for individuals to take advantage of
the 250 online courses offered through Financial Services University,
created and orchestrated by Princeton Learning Systems Inc., is a
matter of career survival. Rather than traveling to a centralized
location for continuing education sessions that often take them away
from the office for one or two days, their employers have brought
ongoing educational opportunities to them via online training.
"Over the past 18 months the demand for our package of online
products has grown from six client companies representing more than
1,000 individuals to 31 client companies representing more than 40,000
individual users," says Steven Haase, principal and executive
vice president of Princeton Learning Systems (PLS). In fact, based
on its success in 1998 with more than $1 million in revenues, PLS
projects a revenue stream of $9 million for 1999, according to Haase.
"It’s nice to have investors these days taking the initiative
to contact us, instead of the other way around," says Haase, referring
to the start-up days with co-founder William Healy in 1995, when they
launched the firm with an initial investment of $225,000 from their
personal bank accounts. The firm grew cautiously, keeping overhead
low but image high for their first two years by occupying shared space
at HQ Princeton in Forrestal Village. This past fall the company moved
into quarters of its own at 707 State Road.
Among the many factors that help explain PLS’s growth spurt is the
company’s strategy to approach large companies in the financial services
industry with an irresistible offer: "Let us take the hassle out
of employee training and compliance management for you and your brokers,
investment advisors, insurance agents, and other staff." Brokers,
insurance, banking, and mutual funds companies, such as Prudential,
Mass Mutual, PaineWebber, NationsBank, and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette’s
Pershing Division, proved eager to sign on as clients.
Similar to medicine, law, accounting, and legions of other professions
that require licenses and certifications, financial services professionals
have to do more than pass a single, rigorous test and obtain a license.
Investment advisors and their colleagues must follow prescribed educational
mandates on an ongoing basis throughout their careers to retain their
position as professionals in good standing.
These continuing education requirements are dictated by the Securities
and Exchange Commission, which works through the National Association
of Securities Dealers and also has the power to levy fines upon companies
that do not properly execute and document compliance with these mandates.
Hence, financial institutions have a compelling financial incentive,
combined with their desire to promote professional staff development,
to meet all requirements in a timely manner.
That’s how PLS fits in. The firm offers four core products focused
on meeting these mandated requirements, with the ability to customize
various aspects to each client’s needs. Called Financial Services
University, this online educational platform handles the registration
process, delivers the courses, manages the testing, and generates
all tracking and reporting details for their clients. To date, PLS
offers 250 online courses by working with 10 leading publishers to
aggregate course content. With the recent opening of a continuing
education help desk, each of PLS’s 40,000 users has hassle-free access
via an 800 number to a staff of 15 individuals who can acquire educational
materials (both online and offline) and assist with specific needs
based on educational profiles maintained for each user.
Furthermore, through an exclusive three-year collaboration with Educational
Testing Service’s Chauncey Group International, PLS clients can directly
obtain the necessary certifications using online learning, as well
as gain the efficiencies and security of knowing that PLS is managing
all tracking and reporting requirements.
One of Princeton Learning System’s newest affiliations will be announced
next week: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
— with more than 330,000 members — is collaborating with PLS
to offer six courses on its website (http://www.aicpa.org).
"Continuing education is an Institute mandate," says AICPA
senior vice president Charles M. Peck, to help members "compete
in a highly challenging business environment."
The Internet connection was especially attractive to the accountants
group, which has a long range "Vision Project" to redefine
the role of the CPA in the global business community. "Technology
is one of the basic Vision elements," says Peck, "so the Internet
must play a vital part in the process."
All of which can only be music to the ears of Princeton Learning’s
founding partners. Haase grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where
his parents have a video production company, and graduated from Rider
(Class of 1989). After college he sold insurance for Prudential, where
he met Healy.
A graduate of the University of Bridgeport (Class of 1969), Healy
has worked for AT&T, Xerox, Cigna Corporation, Merrill Lynch, and
Shearson American Express. He also took the time to earn two master’s
degrees in psychology, one each from Stevens Institute and Fairleigh
Dickinson, and a PhD from Fairleigh Dickinson. In 1986 he set up a
firm which he sold to VMI Learning Systems in 1991, and later served
as VMI’s president before starting Princeton Learning Systems.
At a real university proctors would roam the aisles
of a classroom during finals, watching for cheaters. Is that a problem
among these 40,000 users who sign up for such online courses as "Income
Taxation," "Insider Trading," and "Ethics"?
"PLS offers a number of safeguards to discourage such activity,"
says Haase. These measures include randomization of screens and multiple
choice test questions. However, many clients have chosen to implement
a self-regulating, high stakes admonition, having employees and managers
sign off on consent forms acknowledging their understanding that their
careers are on the line should such improprieties occur.
Such concerns seem small compared to the huge growth forecast for
the field. "In five to seven years," predicts Haase. "I
can see the introduction of some sort of intelligent information appliance
in our homes. This appliance will be able to know our preferences
about what we watch on television, what we learn about, what we like
to learn about, our hobbies, and the products we buy."
"What really excites me is the capability to tie into programs
with such education leaders as Wharton, Johns Hopkins, and New York
University," says Haase, "I’m convinced that whether it’s
Johns Hopkins, Thomas Edison, or DeVry, every institution needs to
leverage Internet technologies. And as we say at Princeton Learning
Systems, `conquer the world and be a leader (in online learning) OR
be road kill.’ Those who don’t adapt to the latest and greatest will
be left behind."
Suite 212, Princeton 08540. William J. Healy, president. 609-924-2882;
fax, 609-520-1702. Home page: http://www.fsu.org.
— Vivian Fransen
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