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2003 Guide To Metalworking On The Internet

Online Training In The Mix
Web-based training offers many advantages over the classroom for those on the shop floor, but it is best applied in a supportive environment.

By Tom Beard
Gardner Publications


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E-learning is all the buzz in training circles these days. The “e” is for electronic, and nowadays that mainly means training programs that can be accessed via the Internet. There are good reasons for the excitement. Web-based training potentially replaces most, if not all, classroom training, freeing the time of instructors and students from a set training schedule. It also removes geographic restrictions, as students can access training content anywhere there is a computer with a decent Internet connection, and at any time of the day. Keeping training content current is easier since it’s not necessary to replace existing printed or video materials. Just one change to online content immediately updates every user’s courseware.

Combined, all of these factors can result in substantial reductions in training costs. More to the point in most organizations, it can allow significant training to occur where it was cost- or time-prohibitive before.

A.B. Heller uses Web-based training to supplement its traditional classroom training techniques. Shown here are plant manager Dodd Noren (standing) and machinist Brandon Harris.

Web-based training isn’t the answer to everything. It certainly will not replace the hands-on training that is so important in acquiring the technical skills necessary for shopfloor personnel. It does not provide the quality of interaction that can occur between good instructors and students, if such environments are achievable within an organization—a big “if” in most. But high-quality Web-based training can indeed deliver a large measure of requisite technical knowledge to students and workers, particularly if it is supported with knowledgeable mentors who can drive home those concepts on the shop floor.

For those accustomed to classroom training techniques, one possible area of discomfort of Web-based learning is the perceived lack of control. In a classroom, the instructor directly controls both the content and its delivery and should be able to get a personal feel for whether the students are working and absorbing the information or not. With e-learning techniques, however, students have much more control over the learning process, certainly in terms of where and when course content is accessed, but also in how they go about absorbing the information. For example, a student who learns best by repeatedly going over content is free to do so without fear of bogging down classmates. This allows students to proceed at their own pace, and to internalize the information in their own way.

The control factor comes, not by a person controlling class discourse, but by the careful selection and presentation of training content. The trick is in making sure appropriate information is included in the online presentations, it is explained clearly, and concepts are built upon in a logical manner. It helps greatly to augment text and photos with multimedia, where physical phenomena can be demonstrated better with video or animation, and with audio, for students who learn better by listening than reading.

Tooling U Online Training
Online classes take the place of classroom training, allowing students to learn at their own pace and to absorb information in their own way.

As for the validation, a well constructed “learning management system” can indeed address the questions of how actively students are engaging the material and whether or not they are “getting it.” This is achieved through the ability to track the specific times any given student is logged into the system, and to measure learning progress via a controlled testing environment. But adding the human touch to mentor students, answer questions and facilitate interaction with peers will surely be an enhancement to any electronic learning system.

Case In Point

Tooling University is perhaps the best example to date of Web-based training for metalworking-related technical knowledge. Tooling U provides online training on-demand to industrial manufacturing companies, educational institutions, professional societies, trade associations and industrial distribution organizations. The curriculum includes classes in shop math, blueprint reading, CNC part programming, materials, tooling and locating principles, metal cutting and forming operations, and many others. Classes are intended to provide real-world interactive content as a cost-effective alternative to traditional training techniques such as seminars, or text-based or video-based approaches.

The content in Tooling U is developed by the company’s instructional design team, working in conjunction with a variety of industry sources and experts. The design team creates each class based on a consistently applied methodology for presenting industry knowledge in an e-learning environment. Besides applying fundamental principles of learning, the methodology also takes into account the unique nature of the industry content and the metalworking community it serves.

Each class includes learning objectives, a class outline, a detailed lesson sequence and a final exam. Students are led through class lessons in a sequential manner so that information is delivered logically and progressively. For example, the 15-lesson “Cutting Processes” class for beginners starts with Class Objectives, and then it progressively moves through What Is Machining?; The Basics of Cutting Tools; Sawing; Turning; Boring; Threading and Grooving; and then on through other milling and drilling type processes, and finally to Broaching. A more advanced class, such as “Cutting Variables,” begins by explaining issues related to machinability. It then identifies the specific variables for each of the major metal cutting processes—in the same order as the beginner class—leading to a deeper understanding of feeds, speeds and depth of cut. This common approach to topics, as well as the common look and feel to lessons throughout the program, contributes to easier and quicker understanding by students as they advance from class to class.

Online Testing
Tests validate students' overall grasp of class material and specifically note areas requiring further study.

Each lesson in a class includes full text explanations augmented by numerous graphic illustrations. For students who respond better to the spoken word, all text can be delivered in an audio format. Besides pictures and illustrations, many lessons also include video clips, and all are further supplemented with pop-up vocabulary definitions of critical terms. For people with slow Internet connections, video and audio tracks also can be provided on a companion CD-ROM.

Case In Practice

A.B. Heller (Milford, Michigan) is a concept-through-production manufacturer serving the automotive, computer, medical and other industries. A QS9000 and ISO 9002 facility, Heller has a long-standing commitment to training—employing internal and external instructional resources—and is actively involved in a local mentoring program for high school students. The shop is a full function CNC machining facility, with 125 primary machines capable of more than 50 different processes, including grinding, honing and lapping. All impressive enough, but the key to this company’s competitiveness is a well-trained workforce on the shop floor. As Heller states in its Web site (www.abheller.com): “Our strength is a highly skilled nucleus of machinists developed during more than 50 years in the prototype business. This experienced, stable work force receives ongoing education and on-the-job training. Our people are encouraged to bring their expertise and innovation to manufacturing problems in a team approach.”

Traditionally focused on classroom training, Heller recently began supplementing that technique with Web-based e-learning. The company started by offering Tooling University on a voluntary basis for the continuing education of shopfloor employees. According to plant manager Dodd Noren, at the start of the process a notice was posted to see who was interested in participating. Of the shop’s 120 employees, 28 responded, and 15 now have subscriptions to the training program. The company will allow employees to spend up to 1.5 hours per week using Web-based training on company time. They have a classroom with a computer dedicated to Tooling U, plus several more where the Web can be accessed. Also, some employees choose to study from home. More recently, the company has decided to make a 90-day subscription part of all new employees’ orientation.

While company owner Pete Rosenkrands says it’s too early to judge the merits of the program from a technical standpoint, he has no doubt that the early benefits have been sufficient to justify the effort. A big part of that belief stems from management’s newfound ability to assess employees’ class performance. For Mr. Rosenkrands, it’s not just a matter of measuring test scores, but also a matter of getting a feel for where employees need more help, and in how well employees are willing to apply themselves. He says, “The reports on students’ progress are invaluable. They not only let us see the progress that individuals are making, the combination of information can tell many other things about the effort they are putting forth or difficulties they might be encountering.”

Administrative Reports
Administrative reports provide management with feedback on employees' overall activity levels as well as individual effort and achievement.

Heller is patient with employees who are willing to try, and the ability to allow students to learn at their own pace makes it easier to keep all trainees engaged without slowing down faster learners or people already accomplished in some aspects of the subject area. “I like the fact that each person can go at his or her own pace,” says Mr. Rosenkrands. “This means that they will not move past a lesson until they have been able to understand it, and no one is having to wait until everyone is ready to move on. The students can also spend time when it’s most convenient for them so they don’t have to be trying to concentrate on the lessons when other matters are encroaching on their thoughts.”

On-demand training has also helped experienced employees fill some of the holes in their knowledge, particularly those who have acquired much of their knowledge on the job and provided a more expeditious means for cross training. Wes Batchelder and Brandon Harris both have more than 8 years of experience at AB Heller, but both agree they have rounded out their knowledge through online study. “I have gained a lot more knowledge than I had before I started the classes,” says Mr. Batchelder. Mr. Harris sees the program as both a training vehicle and a resource. “The classes in Tooling U have greatly improved my shop knowledge. Tooling U has classes to answer almost any machining question,” he says.

Consistency

Still another advantage of e-learning is that content can be delivered more consistently than it can via classroom training. Learning is not dependent on the skill of the instructor, nor for that matter, on the mood or attention of the student on any given day. Combined with a rigorous testing regimen, properly applied e-learning techniques can provide a baseline knowledge standard for all employees and a means to measure their proficiency relative to that benchmark.

A well-trained—and easily trainable—workforce brings so many advantages to an enterprise, that they can hardly be listed here. But a few that must be noted include the ability to implement new technology more quickly, the reduction of operational errors and a general increase in productivity.

A.B. Heller may not be quite there yet. For now it is finding sufficient benefit in filling in knowledge gaps and getting new hires up to speed faster. But in time, more benefits of a better-trained workforce will accrue. A big part of the benefit will be employees’ increased confidence in their own skills and the recognition that management is willing to invest in its people. As one e-learning provider puts it, knowledge plus confidence equals satisfaction. And that will ultimately be apparent to the company’s customers. That may be hard to quantify, but it’s real nonetheless.

Five Key Questions On E-Learning
1. Are you ready for e-learning? Do the attributes of e-learning fit your needs? The overall implementation of e-learning will work better if you are ready for it. If not, you will need to prepare your organization in advance of implementing e-learning.
2. Does the supplier have the e-learning materials? Does the supplier have the instructional sound content you need? If not, is the supplier getting it soon enough to satisfy your needs? Is it high-quality content and well designed? If not, consider looking for another supplier, because without the right type of content, nothing will work for you.
3. How can the supplier assist you? Does the supplier really know about e-learning environments or is it just latching onto a marketing buzzword? It pays to check it out. The supplier must have the expertise and commitment to assist you in your initial installation plus follow through to provide ongoing support.
4. How will you know if e-learning is working? The implementation of e-learning should result in a spurt of creative learning and increased business performance. How will you know? You need a system that records and posts progress.
5. Will it be worth it? The primary drivers for e-learning include several strategic and tactical business targets. Most of these objectives focus on lowering the cost of training while increasing the performance of the individual. Which
goals are you seeking?
Source: SkillSoft-www.skillsoft.com

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