Is your employer hassling you to take some training courses, but you lack the motivation or desire to return to school? Well, stay in your pajamas, grab a cup of coffee, sit down in front of the computer and get ready to learn.

The Michigan Virtual University (MVU), established in 1998 by Gov. John Engler and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., provides courses, seminars and training electronically on the Internet to high school students, college students or established professionals.

Previously known as the Michigan Virtual Automotive College (MVAC), the MVU offers automotive industry courses as well as a wide variety in other areas. The aim of the old automotive college to provide employers and employees of OEMs, suppliers and the United Auto Workers cost-effective, high-quality education and training will be assumed by MVU’s Corporate Learning Services unit, says Jack B. Jonkers, vice president, market and business development.

Current clients of MVU include Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., American Axle and Manufacturing and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. “We have a strong pull to people in the (auto) industry,” says Mr. Jonkers. “A lot of the influence and support of e-learning-focused workforce development came from The Big Three and Tier 1, Tier 2 suppliers.”

The MVU is comprised of various Michigan universities and professional organizations—including Davenport University, American Society of Employers, Eastern Michigan University and Michigan State University.

Mr. Jonkers works with the Corporate Learning Service unit of MVU and acquires contracts with companies to provide e-learning and training services to their employees. Corporate Learning Services designs web-based training courses around the business goals of participating companies to ensure relevant and specialized instruction. Mr. Jonkers says some courses are offered for new employees, while others work to sharpen the skills of people that have been on the job awhile. Corporate Learning Services offers anything from IT (Information Technology) classes to training courses on computer software and hardware, business development skills, quality improvement, problem solving, and lean manufacturing. “When we work for companies, we try to target the specific skills employees need to do a better job,” Mr. Jonkers says.

Through a partnership between Ford and MVAC, several award winning courses are offered through the MVU website. “Failure Mode and Effects Analysis” was a “Gold Medal Winner” for excellence in design at the 1999 Brandon Hall of Fame awards program, a nationally recognized authority on technology-based and multimedia training. The course also won an “Honorable Mention” in the Arbor Awards for excellence, says a MVU press release. Another Ford-MVAC course, titled “Global 8D,” has also received numerous awards. These programs are complimented for excellent instructional design, use of media, quality and innovation.

Web-based courses have a number of benefits over traditional training methods—they are available 24 hours a day, are cost efficient as they involve initial and low maintenance costs, they often require half the learning time as regular classes, give students “control” over their own learning (when and where to do it), track students progress and evaluation scores online for easy access and storage. Some courses even have live online instructors, materials, assignments, video and audio conferencing, chat rooms, email, CD-ROMs and videotapes.

Cost of MVU courses vary according to complexity and skill. The range in price is $75 -$350. Sometimes, companies want a personal learning portal just for their employee’s use and that would include additional fees, Mr. Jonkers says. MVU also develops web-based products for employers who want their company information online along with the course material.

MVU has approximately 17,000 students enrolled this year while the Corporate Learning Services unit is serving about 4,800, Mr. Jonkers says.

To up enrollment numbers, a number of programs will be initiated at MVU in the fall. One of these is “Operation Upgrade” that will provide 1,200 online computer technology training modules to Michigan businesses with 25 or fewer employees. Mr. Jonkers says the potential number of employees to take advantage of the program is 716,000.

“Fundamentals of Lean Manufacturing” is an example of an online course provided by MVU. Course objectives include identifying the steps for executing kaizen, identifying techniques for achieving batch-of-one capability and how to calculate first time quality. The price of this course is $495, is completed in approximately 10 hours and is available anytime. The benefit of taking a lean class through MVU is that it is web-based and self-paced whereas most or all other lean courses are not, Mr. Jonkers says. Enrollment is at 50 students currently as the class is relatively new. Other specific courses include “Intro to Labor Relations,” “Basic Quality Control,” and “Understanding Six Sigma.”

“We want Michigan to be competitive and its workers to have the best skills—that’s how we want to help,” Mr. Jonkers says.

The office of MVU is located in Lansing, MI and the website is http://www.mivu.org.