eLearning Tips

Get the most from engineering eLearning

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How engineers can realise the full potential of eLearning

Online training provides virtually everything students do in a classroom training course but allows much greater flexibility in its approach. This article highlights some of the key issues and explains how to get the best results from different online resources. In summary, learn, practice, understand, validate.

Let's start by reviewing the four simple steps to becoming an expert in fluid power.

  • Step 1 Find the Right Course.
  • step 2 Guided Instruction.
  • Step 3 Hands-On Experiments.
  • Step 4 Testing and Qualification.

Step 1 How to find the correct course at the appropriate skill level

Traditional classroom approach: Teachers are experts at quickly understanding their students and feeding them the most appropriate information.

eLearning approach: e4training.com has an online skill planner that asks users the relevant questions, then recommends the appropriate course modules personalised to the needs of the individual. The planner links with an online quiz that continuously monitors the answers to assess the skill level each individual user is working at.

Top Tips: Always discuss your training needs with your employer or an experienced hydraulics engineer. Blended training (online and in-house) or pure online with specialist mentoring also works well.

Step 2 Guided instruction for knowledge-based learning

Traditional classroom approach: Sitting in lectures can be, time-consuming, not to mention expensive and research shows that as little as 10% of what is taught gets remembered. Books are arguably better than websites but can be more expensive and less accessible for large numbers of users. Powerpoint presentations don't work very effectively online both from a software and a usability point of view.

eLearning approach: Rather than simply showing videos of classroom lessons e4training.com provides short, detailed, and intensive hydraulic training videos. Attention spans are shorter with online lessons so videos need to be short and include a good menu system to enable users to find the specific video they need quickly. Videos can also be quickly revisited to refresh and embed learning. Website text is plentiful but menu systems need to be clear and easily navigated. A further benefit is the free language translation and 'text to voice' utilities which are becoming more effective and accessible to everyone. People are different and like to learn in different ways and at different speeds.

As an alternative to PowerPoint or flashy animations, online content includes interactive tutorials that run using intelligent software routines to keep users more engaged. They allow students to work at their own pace as they investigate and interact with the content. Along with spoken narration, this user interaction helps to reinforce and embed learning. Content management software also means that each module can be written by the subject expert, without the need to learn how to program.

Top Tips: Split online learning courses into several short, intensive, training modules studied over a period of time. Repeat video sections until you are confident it has been fully understood. Replay modules as a refresher course, at any point that the information is required. Engage with the tutorials rather than simply letting them play through.

To learn the same amount as a one week course may only take around half the time but will still require a lot of hours working through the modules and will need the self-discipline to sit for the 15-30 minute intensive learning blocks.

Step 3 Hands-on experiments for skills-based learning

Traditional classroom approach: You see you forget, you hear you remember, you do and you understand. We all know that hands-on learning is very effective, and this is unlikely to change.

eLearning approach: While e-learning can't include real machines to work on, it can include virtual test rigs that respond in the same way as the real thing. What is lost in reality is made up for with increased safety and the ability to see inside the components as they operate. I'd like to say it is also cheaper, however, industry figures show that building simulations is very expensive and the cost can only come down with large numbers of users.

Top Tips: Follow the interactive exercises provided. Think about what is happening and run your own experiments until you fully understand the relevant principles involved. Try adding the sizes of components you work with and compare results with actual data.

Step 4 Testing and qualifications to validate performance

Traditional classroom approach: Teachers are very good at assessing student's abilities and certifying their learning. The only questionable aspect is that paying for a course sometimes means you have to pass.

eLearning approach: Online quizzes are used to reinforce learning and assess progress. LRS and LMS systems provide an instant and very effective way of collating every student's progress and results.

Top Tips: All tutorials and virtual test rigs contain progress trackers that analyse performance and allow students to post their own results to an LRS system of their own choice.