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Have PWAs finally released the potential for high quality online hydraulic training?

Up until now, if you've ever wanted to gain experience of designing or maintaining hydraulic equipment then the best approach was to sign up to a training course at a specialist training school. However, recent developments in Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) mean that educators now have all of the tools they need to deliver a rich and powerful learning experience online.

When interactive CDs and eLearning first appeared in the late 1990s many people thought it would revolutionise engineering training. Gary Molton believes the push from IT managers to have everything browser based, meant that CDs never lasted and the Internet has not been fast or consistent enough to provide a major impact. This led to the early eLearning courses simply delivering a combination of pictures and text that was little better than buying a good book. The desire for high quality, low-cost education for everyone, at the moment they need it, did not materialise.

For online learning to be as effective as a good teacher it needs to allow students to experiment with real product simulations, in much the same way they would use a physical training rig to experiment with hydraulic equipment. PWAs allow eLearning developers to build interactive simulations on which users can test their skill and learn by doing, rather than simply being told. This type of application is not new but running them on the internet has always been too expensive and poor quality. Building product simulations in PWAs is still not cheap but using Rapid-Application-Development (RAD) tools with standardised software libraries has made them more accessible and their suitability for engineering training and length of user retention, can make them a better option than a simple video.

In this article will look at how these interactive training simulations are used on the www.e4training.com website and demonstrate how modern eLearning could be used to improve the wider engineering education. The e4training site covers a wide range of hydraulic training topics and while it still includes text and pictures, each training module also has an instructional video and interactive training simulation in which students can practice or experiment with what they've learned. Applications include:

Fundamental Principles Demonstrations

Highly graphic representations of hydraulic principles, based on children's game technology, allow visual, interactive experiments where users can adjust and see the internal components moving, alongside the circuit symbol changes, and output values presented in an x-y graph.

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Product Demonstrations

Real products can be shown and tested in a range of different applications. Students can be challenged with a much wider range of examples than would be available on traditional training rigs.

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System Design Exercises

PWAs allow developers to provide simple drag and drop exercises to build systems such as hydraulic power units. Students can then place simulated test equipment against the relevant test points to analyse system performance or troubleshoot errors. Other simulations allow students to size the system components and compare the performance changes in real-time mathematical models.

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Circuit building exercises

Although PWAs can't yet provide the speeds necessary for full dynamic simulations they do allow powerful circuit training simulations where students can select, build or edit a range of hydraulic circuit designs. When linked with a series of questions and diagnostic exercises these tools provide a very fast and flexible learning environment. It's true that similar programs have been available on PCs for many years but the ability to run them in a browser significantly improves their accessibility.

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Interactive quiz

Finally, no training course would be complete without a good quiz. This is no longer just a series of multiple-choice questions but a much richer, games style interface with picture matching, priority list, and other more engaging challenges. Delivering the quiz via mobile phone also allows course providers additional security when providing qualifications because tests can be scheduled at any moment and require the person taking the course to send instant photo proof of ID.

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Summary

Combining all of the above elements into one training course provides a rich learning environment ideally suited to training engineers. The software techniques used are now mature enough that they won't get replaced every few years and a better understanding of how people learn through computer screens, means that an excellent standard of education can finally be provided for a much lower cost to the employers.