VB for free: Online training saves time and money

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but there is free online training.

FreeSkills.com is a Web site offering complete online training for the IT and the soft skills market. FreeSkills uses an advertising-based revenue model to provide 230 free courses on Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.

Offering Visual Basic courses ranging from beginners' guides through advanced client-server programming, FreeSkills' courses are designed for users needing to learn a subject from scratch.

SearchVB Assistant News Editor Eric B. Parizo recently spoke with FreeSkills.com Business Development Manager Richard Bendelow about the company's online training offerings.

SearchVB: What kinds of courses does FreeSkills offer? Do you limit your offerings in any areas?

Bendelow: FreeSkills currently offers training in IT and the soft skills market. None of the material is just an introduction or part course; the courses are all complete and delivered to the online world using the same text that would be delivered to a student of a classroom tutor-led course.

SearchVB:Can you tell us a little more about the courses you offer specific to VB?

Bendelow:We offer courses that enable students to study both Visual Basic and Visual Basic for Applications, We offer VB4 through to VB6 courses ranging from Introductions through to advanced client server development. The material is designed to provide students with knowledge of the subject from scratch, so for instance, the Visual Basic 6 Introduction course requires no prior knowledge of Visual Basic but it does require the user to have an understanding of programming concepts. The Client Server Visual Basic course only requires prior knowledge of Visual Basic but will teach all about ODBC, OLE DB, DAO, RAO and ActiveX from a beginner's point of view.

SearchVB:Who are you tailoring them to? What level of expertise does a programmer need in order to take one of the online courses?

Bendelow:This really depends on the course taken, we have Introductory courses that require only slight programming knowledge and we have courses that will take users through advanced topics. The material is not really reference material but ground level information that provides the basis to build up your expertise within the subject.

I would suggest that the main users of Freeskills.com are people that have limited or zero knowledge of a subject but wish to learn. Most Web sites providing information on subjects are very specific, start in the middle of the subject matter and work upward. We aim to provide the knowledge to take users from a zero/minimal understanding through to an Intermediate/Advanced level of knowledge and to help them apply that knowledge.

SearchVB:Any plans to offer courses that will help educate people more about Microsoft's .Net strategy once the details become known?

Bendelow:This is something we will be looking into shortly, our biggest category and the most used courses are our Microsoft subject courses. Microsoft's .NET strategy should be an exciting breakthrough in the way people use the Internet, and we see this as a future platform. We, therefore, aim to look into all the training requirements, and we are seeking out a strategic content provider specifically for this subject.


SearchVB: You have a unique revenue structure; can you explain how it works and how it allows you to offer your courses at no charge?

Bendelow: Basically FreeSkills.com revenue comes from advertisers placing banner adverts at the top of the training pages. These adverts are shown to visitors as they learn. We have tried very hard to ensure these adverts are not intrusive and do not detract from the users training. As our content has grown so much in the 16 months FreeSkills has been online, we now also offer the content through a licensing model to large corporate Internet and intranet sites.


SearchVB: How long does it take on average to select, begin, and complete a course?

Bendelow: From the homepage to table of contents takes a user through approximately 4 clicks: One to pick course list, one to pick a category, one to pick a course, and one to start the course from what we call our course portal page, where lots of information relating to each course is kept. Our courses are designed to be taken over 1-2 days, although in reality users generally spend approximately 6-7 hours to complete a full training course.


SearchVB: Do users find it difficult not having an interactive format in an online course?

Bendelow: A lot of the feedback FreeSkills gets asks this very question. We provide over 35,000 pages of content and we provide it free from charge. The material we get is in a static format and therefore we host it like this. We are contacting more and more training companies to convince them of the FreeSkills model, hopefully soon we will be able to add more interactive learning material to the site.

We are working closely with a number of our course providers to enable a quiz system, this will provide users with feedback and page description on wrongly answered questions, we are also looking at providing free PDF-based digitally signed certificates of achievement for our visitors' efforts.


SearchVB: Are any prerequisites (platform, memory, training, etc.) required to use FreeSkills courses?

Bendelow: As our courses are provided in Adobe Acrobat format, users require the free reader that is available for download from their site. Also a number of our courses do require some prior knowledge of the subject or a related subject.


SearchVB: If you had to envision the ideal user for your products, who would that user be?

Bendelow: Our ideal users are individuals with a desire to learn without the resources available to pay for training. A lot of our users are people cross training into IT from other vocations. FreeSkills provides the perfect platform for them to learn in their own time and at their own pace with none of the costs involved in doing so. We got a lot of positive feedback and thanks for offering the material free and that makes us feel very proud and satisfied that we are making a difference to peoples lives.


SearchVB: In what direction do you see FreeSkills going in the future?

Bendelow: We have recently launched a user forum and are looking forward to offering exams and certificates on the site. As FreeSkills.com continues to grow so do the potential course material providers, more and more companies are seeing FreeSkills.com as an extra revenue source for their material and see the potential to mass market and mass brand their material through our user base. Since joining the eFront network, the traffic to FreeSkills.com has doubled. We hope to maintain this phenomenal growth to take our learning material to each and every Internet user needing to learn new skills. We still have not spent any money on advertising as we believe that our site firmly speaks for itself.


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