Intranet-based computerized training be the next best thing to being there. Being a student of "distance learning" is not the same as skipping school. Yet this modern means of training employees is as rampant in corporate America as the flu is before a big exam in high school.

Anyone who has endured torturous stretches of paying rapt attention to "live images" of other people doing the same thing back at them will be thrilled by how far distance learning has traveled since the dreaded dawn of "video-conferencing."

You know the drill. Gulp some coffee. Grit your teeth. Gather yourself or your troops and head into a stuffy room. Grab a seat that lets you see your living, breathing colleagues as well as the talking heads on the screen. Get set to listen hard -- and to appear erudite as you and your words are transmitted to people you may have never met face to face.

Sure, the whole idea of video-conferencing is to save money by slashing travel budgets and the cost of productivity supposedly lost when employees are away from their "real" jobs.

Opting for live-video links may work in special circumstances, such as ironing out a problem between far-flung business partners. Certainly, multinational corporations and large domestic firms with heavily staffed offices can reap the economies of scale offered by interactive conferences.

However, most truck fleets don't have enough people to justify the expense of installing video-transmission gear and assigning someone to manage the function. That doesn't mean their employees are off the hook. Instead of heading down the hall to a conference room, these poor folks may find themselves holed up in a rented facility in some inspiring place like an airport hotel.

No one ever said work was supposed to be fun. Where the learning takes place is sure to have an effect on student involvement and retention. A participant tends to recall more vividly the conference he or she attended in Hawaii ten years ago than the seminar in the O'Hare Hilton two weeks ago.

Just as there are those who will angle for every travel opportunity, there are workers who'd rather go to the same workplace day after day. But there's one situation on which both factions would agree. Those who thrive on routine would rather receive training in their workplace. And those truly afflicted with road fever would see doing time at some Holiday Inn as a treatment worse than their disease.

Thanks to emerging solutions that leverage private computerized networks -- or intranets -- both the steadfast and footloose can now be soothed. By using intranets to put distance learning on a more personal level, neither group would have to travel further than their own desk to benefit from interactive training.

Many of the intranet-based programs and services now available are aimed at office workers. Truck fleets may find these helpful for training support staff.

The maintenance shop is another frontier being broached by the newest form of distance learning. Already, The Maintenance Council (TMC) is delving into how computer-based training could impact fleet mechanics.

"It's not unrealistic to suggest that computers may soon be as basic to training as pencils and note pads," remarked Bob Flesher, manager of vehicle design and fleet maintenance for AGA Gas Inc., at this year's annual TMC meeting. "Properly administered in a maintenance shop," he added, "interactive use of computers can help instruct, stimulate, and test a mechanic's knowledge."

Ernie Wagner, national sales manager for Pacific Animated Imaging, told the group the intranet is a powerful tool by virtue of its ability to provide access anywhere, to update information immediately, and to bring "the action" live to trainees. He reported that 36% of surveyed companies use an intranet, 50% plan to employ one in the future, and only 14% have no such intentions.

Wagner said intranet-based approaches account for the lion's share of the overall growth of training systems. He noted, by the way, that the growth contribution of "televised" distance learning now amounts to a whopping zero percent. Gee, maybe it is safe to go back into the conference room. Or at least to get a flu shot.