Microsoft has teamed with several online classroom providers (OCPs) to create MOLI, an online campus for technical training. MOLI works like a clearing house where different OCPs offer online training to anyone who wants to learn about Microsoft products or technologies.

MOLI combines self-paced training from a student's computer with the benefits of an instructor's guidance. The benefit to such training is its convenience. For businesses and individuals, MOLI is an alternative to traditional classroom training and saves you time and money.

The Campus
Microsoft launched MOLI on MSN in August 1995 and is moving MOLI to the Internet--just in time for the fall term. (MSN subscribers will be able to access MOLI from MSN, but spawned to the Internet.)

In late April 1996, more than two dozen OCPs offered classes through MSN and the Internet. Table 1 lists the OCPs and the classes they offer. New OCPs and classes are popping up all the time.

The Curriculum
Microsoft divides the MSN classes into three categories: OSs (Windows NT and Windows 95), development tools (Access, SQL Server, VB, Visual C++, and Visual FoxPro), and application tools (Excel, Word, and PowerPoint). The MOLI classes on the Internet include additional titles such as Internet Application Development and Web Authoring for Microsoft's Internet Information Server. These new courses target students who want to pursue Webmeister certification or learn how to create and maintain intranet sites.

Initially, most MSN courses were online versions of Microsoft certification classes. Although Microsoft didn't force the OCPs to use Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) materials (e.g., manuals, disks, and CD-ROMs), many early MSN courses did. Microsoft certifies all OCP training materials, and most OCPs are actively developing their own content to supplement MOC materials. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is developing new curriculums for Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and CD-ROM delivery.

The Classroom
MOLI offers students a modern-day version of correspondence classes. Online education enthusiasts point out that online classes take place in realtime: You don't have to submit assignments and wait for corrected results via snail mail. And online classes let you receive training without setting foot in a classroom. (Some OCPs offer combination classes, mainly online, but with a shortened version of classroom and lab training.) For now, most MOLI classes have definite start and finish dates, and you have to participate in online quiz sections (or chat sessions) once or twice a week.

The online chats let you interact with other students. In the MOLI classes I've taken, the online sessions are a combination of questions that the online instructor and students ask. These chat sessions help prepare students for certification exams. Besides the chat sessions, MSN's MOLI classes combine reading assignments, hands-on labs, and downloadable instructor notes, quizzes, and/or sample certification exams. As MOLI migrates to the Web (phase 2 beta began June 18), more content will be online, and 24 X 7 training will become a reality.

Tuition and Fees
Students pay OCPs for materials and training, a fee that's generally competitive with the cost of a live class. Tuition includes course materials such as Microsoft's self-paced training materials and a CD-ROM. If you access MOLI via MSN, you're responsible for the online charges that can add up during the chat sessions. Consider signing up for the heavy user option ($19.95/month) for the duration of the class and revert to normal user charges ($4.95/month) afterward. MOLI classes don't require travel or time off work, so the MSN costs are usually more than offset. Microsoft charges OCPs a program fee that lets them use the MOLI toolset.

Contact Info
Microsoft * 206-882-8080
Web: http://moli.microsoft.com, or GO MOLI on MSN