Click on the "Mold and Moisture Management" link on Stock Building Supply's Web site and you'll find the Raleigh, N.C.?based dealer's Online Training Academy, where employees and builders can view 16 video modules covering various aspects of the topic. On the Web site of Jeld-Wen, a window and door manufacturer in Klamath Falls, Ore., you can take in a computer-animated video on proper vinyl window installation. At the Internet site of Builders FirstSource (BFS) in Dallas, visitors can view a video showcasing BFS' product, manufacturing, and installed sales capabilities.

The Internet has evolved into a robust resource of tools and information for the industry, with companies using Web-based video applications to help with training, teach employees and customers about products, and even distribute in-depth marketing materials. Within that trend, observers say distance learning and training is starting to gain momentum on a broad level.

With online training modules, dealers can educate and test employees on the finer points of building science. Shown here is a quiz on proper flashing installation from Stock Building Supply's Stock Sales University. Photo: Courtesy Building Media "People just can't afford to keep schlepping around on airplanes and stay in hotels for all their training, not to mention the time they miss away from their job," says Craig Savage, chief marketing officer for Building Media, a Seattle-based distance-learning firm that focuses on the building industry. A wholly owned subsidiary of DuPont, Building Media built Stock's online academy and has produced educational programs for James Hardie, LP SmartSide, Kimball Hill Homes, and Parksite Plunkett-Webster.

Jim Kirkland, Stock's vice president of sales, says using distance learning has been an effective tool for supplementing the firm's traditional, on-site training programs. "Stock's Online Training Academy allows us to extend our reach and provide better service to our associates, our vendors, and our customers," he says.

Dubbed "Learning Management Systems" within the industry, these packages of Web-served applications and videos are far from just beauty shots and fancy production effects. In fact, many universities are now using learning management systems to run online degree programs. In the building industry, they can provide in-depth and comprehensive tools for making sure employees are up to speed.

"Depending on what spectrum of products you're looking at, we create a three-part series covering features and benefits, installation, and how to sell the product," Savage says of Building Media's methods. "The counter people and outside sales reps are required to take the series over time and, at the conclusion, take an online exam to show their knowledge."

Implementing that kind of program doesn't come cheap. Technology to administer and serve up the system starts at $5,000, according to Savage, and can run as high as $150,000, depending on which bells and whistles are included. Then you have to fill the system with content, which can be pricey, too. As a general rule of thumb, production costs can run as high as $1,000 per minute of video, though a 10-minute segment could be done for as little as $2,500, according to Savage. "It all depends on the quality of what you're doing," he says.

While those costs run a lot higher than a PowerPoint presentation on how best to install windows, the power of using video for training is hard to beat. "Video is a great communication tool," says Elizabeth Souders, Jeld-Wen's public relations and promotions manager. "We know people learn in a variety of ways, and sometimes it's just easier to understand once you see a demo." Plus, with manufacturers such as Jeld-Wen shouldering the burden for producing videos on their own products, it's a cost that often can be offset for dealers.

Beyond the mold section of Stock's Web site, employees can enter the password-protected Stock Sales University and soak up manufacturer-sponsored information on everything from building loads to the fundamentals of framing, foundations, and roofs and attics. Each module is followed by an online quiz. "What you are looking at is bringing employees up to speed on building science," Savage says. "Distance learning is a quick, easy way to do that."

–Joe Bousquin is a contributing editor for ProSales.