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From Floppies to Wifi: 30 Years of Interactive Training with Dublin’s The Computer Workshop

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega From Floppies to Wifi: 30 Years of Interactive Training with Dublin’s The Computer Workshop
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When Thelma Tippie founded The Computer Workshop 30 years ago, the technological landscape looked vastly different. There was no such thing as a home network. Our slender, lightweight computers were more like boxes. And those boxes’ processing power and capacity were a fraction of what we have today in the most basic of mobile phones.

Still, people needed help managing these machines’ functions and programs. That’s when Tippie, then described by local media as a “46-year-old mother-turned-temp worker-turned-entrepreneur,” started The Computer Workshop, then known as T&M Computing. Although she had no formal computer training, as a temp worker Tippie naturally found herself picking up a variety of computer programs from each new position she held.

The Computer Workshop started with a single-sheet course offering. It featured classes like Managing Your Mac and Managing with MS DOS, as well as beginner, intermediate and expert tutorials for programs like Microsoft Excel, Works and Word. Tippie’s goal was to offer a training center for companies to send their employees — even those in the tech field — to get more out of these programs and their equipment than they initially thought possible.

“For a normal employee in a company, if they’re using Microsoft Office products, they’re usually using 10 to 15 percent of what that program actually does,” Tippie said, “and so they can increase productivity if they learn more about the software they have, because there are features in there that can save them time, but they don’t know they exist.

“What they get coming out of college is enough to start,” she added, “but that’s not all there is.”

These classes are online, instructor-led trainings. Students attend remotely through WebEx, joining between five and 25 others and a field expert who provides the instruction. Initially, many of the classes were run by Tippie herself, but as the company has expanded, The Computer Workshop has contracted with hundreds of experts that can teach thousands of individual programs. Each class lasts between one and five days, and each covers a different skill level of the course: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

The Computer Workshop, which at first served a local base of clients from their office in Dublin, now has three locations nationwide (one in Cleveland and one in Atlanta) and serves national and international corporations and state and federal government agencies. In 30 years, the company went from being a one-woman show to being a continually growing entity, needing to react quickly to changes in the technological field. In those 30 years, said The Computer Workshop COO Terri Williams (daughter of Tippie), the public’s patience with slow technology dropped considerably, and the search for instantaneous information had begun.

“Think about what we used to find acceptable, just our tolerance for waiting on our computer back in the day, when we’d wait for the dial tone and hear the ringing, and then be connected to the internet and eventually get a page up,” Williams recalled. “Now, if we don’t have five bars on our phone, we are really upset. If you have to wait more than a second our two for a page to come up on your computer it’s really slow. Everything is instant.”

There is one consistency, however:

“In all those changes, the thing we come back to is that the preferred method of learning, for the majority of people, is for someone to be in the classroom with them who can answer questions and who has a knowledge base to share that’s larger than their own,” Williams said.

The Computer Workshop’s knowledge base and instruction may be accessed via videos, but the ability to engage with the instructor hasn’t been lost in the process. Students can ask questions during class and get real-time responses, something lacking from many video-based tutorials. While training videos have proliferated, unless there’s some student-teacher interaction, some education experts say they don’t allow for students to practice and get feedback, or get a final assessment to be sure they’ve learned the skill.

“…practice is essential for effective training. In fact, it’s during these practice-feedback cycles that the most learning happens,” states an article from E-Learning Industry. “The use of video as a non-interactive medium means that practice in any form is typically excluded in YouTube-based training. Individualized feedback on a learner’s performance is impossible using YouTube or any other video-only training.”

The Computer Workshop hosts small classes, with one instructor overseeing between five and 25 students. After their day- or several day-long workshop concludes, Williams said that instructors often keep in touch with students, maintaining availability for any follow-up questions.

“As much as the media and noise out there would have you believe that quick videos and online communities and subscription-based learning packages are the way to go, there’s still a desire by us to have that human connectivity where we can go and have the freedom to learn, and we’re not under pressure if we don’t know something or need help,” Williams said. “I think that’s why a lot of people come to us, to have a relaxed atmosphere that’s friendly and conducive to learning.”

Now in her 70s, Tippie has cultivated a family business led by Williams and Tippie’s other two children, Kim McFarland, their Finance Office Manager, and David Williams, Vice President. Under their leadership, Tippie sees The Computer Workshop continually expanding, in courses, instructors, and clients. They’re broadening their base internationally, and will likely be contracting with instructors in Europe to serve their clients on the other side of the Atlantic.

“The world is a lot smaller than it used to be with the tech that’s out there, and the world market is probably where we’re going to find ourselves in 30 years,” Tippie said, “because so many companies that we deal with have U.S. locations and locations in Europe. I think you’re going to find more and more needs for us to be on an international level, whether that means we’re flying people over or having trainers overseas.”

For more information about The Computer Workshop, visit tcworkshop.com.

Our new technology series is presented by our partners in the City of Dublin.

Dublin is a city of more than 47,000 residents located just northwest of Columbus, Ohio. The City of Dublin Economic Development team has a vision to make Dublin a Midwest IT Magnet through business leadership and sustainable workforce development. This commitment goes beyond short-term skills training to include long-term strategic and cultural support for the entire Dublin business community. Dublin is one of America’s Top 20 Creative Class Cities and is home to more than 20 corporate headquarters, an entrepreneurial center, 3,000+ businesses, world-class events and the urban, walkable Bridge Street District.

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