News Column

E-volving

July 1, 2014

O'Leary, Bill



Once considered a rare option, e-leaming is steadily becoming a fixture of education

GONE ARE the days when the only materials you needed for class were a textbook, a pen, and a notebook. A computer and a working Internet connection have now been added to the list.

E-leaming is a form of education that uses electronic media like audio and video through devices such as computers, tablets, webcams, and smartphones. It's an inclusive term synonymous with multimedia learning, computer-aided instruction, and Web-based training.

Information technologies like wireless signals and software are also elements of e-leaming giving students the ability to send and receive content, further engaging with a program. A typical e-leaming course will include a combination of text, audio, images, and streaming video.

According to Ekta Srivastava and Nisha Agarwal at the International Journal of Advanced Research, 77% of American corporations used online learning in 2011, with the belief that this percentage will only increase over time.

While not as prevalent in electromechanical engineering as it is in other industries like chemical engineering, financial accounting, and Web design, the growth of this type of digital learning is undeniable. And many other businesses are going with a "best of both worlds" approach by having a blended learning program where students receive both online content and face-to-face classroom instruction.

With e-leaming already being applied in a variety of ways on the fringes of the electromechanical industry, it seems to be only a matter of time before there is significant integration in training and education programs. Yet what place does e-leaming have in a predominantly hands-on trade?

Pluses and minuses

One of the biggest advantages to elearning is convenience. As long as you have the necessary technological capabilities to take the course, class work can be scheduled around work and personal obligations. Also, companies and employees save time and travel expenses that come along with outside training programs.

The flexible aspect of this type of education can allow for self-paced education that accommodates a variety of learning styles that different types of students possess. Along with that, online components like e-mail, bulletin boards, and chat rooms can foster more interaction between students and their instructors when in a blended learning course.

E-leaming is certainly not a flawless approach to education though. Those who prefer to work with their hands and are more at ease in the field may not have interest in computers. Specific files and software that are present in e-leaming courses may be too complicated for students who are not fluent with computers and similar devices.

Also, it can be difficult for eleaming programs to properly simulate lab work that is pivotal to many jobs within electromechanical engineering. The convenience of taking a course at any time could work against a student. Without the set structure and routine of classroom learning, individuals with low motivation or lax study habits may not feel compelled to complete the course.

Also, the loss of that communal environment, being physically present with fellow students and the instructor, could negatively affect a student's understanding of a particular topic. At times, the best way to avoid confusion is to simply raise your hand and ask the teacher.

Electromechanical e-learning

Yet with all this being said, online learning has moved into the electromechanical industry in a number of ways. Here is what's currently available to help educate you for work on the shop floor, out in the field, or in your office:

The Electrical Apparatus Service Association offers a number of software programs for service center employees. "A-C Motor Verification and Redesign (Version 3)" is a Java-based program that allows multiple simultaneous input cases for comparison of different motors. Available on all current Windows operating systems, this CD-ROM also gives users the ability to have multiple simultaneous redesigns of each motor for comparison of rewind options and provides a side-by-side display of multiple rewind options.

The association also has "How to Wind Three-Phase Stators" software, which provides an interactive training course primarily intended for new winders with little to no winding experience. It can also be used for reinforcement and expansion of more experienced winders' knowledge of random winding. The three-phase random winding techniques and principles from this CD-ROM can be applied to armatures, wound rotors, field coils, and form coil stator windings. The course lesson plan includes taking data, core testing, coil making, and winding treatment.

New Standard Institute, a Milford. Conn., training and consulting company, provides computer-based training to the industry through online download and CD-ROM. Topics include three phase a-c motors, a-c motor controls, electrical safe work practices, and machine vibration basics. Each disc incorporates narration, pop-up definitions, enlargeable graphics, and interactive exercises.

Broadening the scope, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has an e-leaming library that is a collection of short courses and conference workshops. Many course subjects are structured in the form of a series like the "IEEE Electric Battery Video Series" and the "IEEE eLearning Series on Design of Integrated Circuits" for both single and dual ports. For beginners, courses like "General Topics for Engineers (Math, Science, and Engineering)" and the "IEEE eLearning Library Series on Engineering Ethics" may be of interest. This large digital library includes a technical glossary, forum, and chat room.

An example of blended learning can be found at the Professional Electrical Apparatus Recyclers League (PEARL). The association announced that it is currently accepting applications for electrical reconditioning technician Level I certification through its new PEARL Technician Certification Program portal, a complement to its hands-on program. In addition to submitting an application to the online portal, users can also view information on the certification levels, eligibility requirements, a program handbook, and sample exam questions. (More details about PEARL's certification portal may be found in this month's "Associations," page 11.)

With all this said, the effectiveness of elearning depends solely on you. If you're experienced and skilled with using computers and other devices, this type of education may engage you in ways that other methods cannot. If you grew up "learning by doing" and using your hands, many other proven and traditional training approaches may be a better fit.

Let us know what you think about eleaming. Have you ever taken an online course or training program? How effective was it compared to other educational methods? Did you encounter any problems with e-leaming? Please respond by e-mail to holeary@biirks.com.

By Bill O'Leary,

EA Associate Editor


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Source: Electrical Apparatus


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