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Engineering Training in the Future

Tony AbbeyEditor’s Note: Tony Abbey teaches live NAFEMS FEA classes in the U.S., Europe and Asia. He also teaches NAFEMS e-learning classes globally. Contact tony.abbey@nafems.org for details.

I go to the gym a few times a week in a vain attempt to keep weight down and retain some level of fitness. I see people of all ages beavering away at the various apparatus and almost all are attached to mobile devices. In the brief rest between repetitions on a bench press, leg curl or similar fiendish device, the phone comes out for rapid texting or email exchanges. Then it’s back to the machine and the cycle continues. The level of connectivity is astonishing. Millennials are given the label of being the connected generation; the usual consensus is that they crave connectivity, communication and sense of community.

But, it is not just Millennials who are driving that new culture. I am a Baby Boomer and even I sense the growing urgency of having to keep in touch with the very latest information on all fronts. Personalized popup ads, emails and so on ensure I get a wave of “vital” information about anything I have shown interest in. I respond and purchase all sorts of textbooks, apps and gadgets. I also want it all quickly. In my own way, I, too, am guilty of this need for connectivity and instant gratification.

On-Demand Learning

Over the last 18 months, I have experimented with creating various forms of on-demand e-learning training material. YouTube provided an interesting experience because reviewing viewer metrics can be horrifying. There is an instant cliff-edge effect as 60% or more of the initial audience bails out within the first 15 to 20 seconds. Clear trends can be seen as viewers progressively abandon the video. If you can sustain 10% to 20% of viewers by the end, you are faring well. Experimenting with format and content of material shows whether it works on a second-by-second basis.

I can fully understand the viewer’s perspective. How many videos have an attractive title but then provide poor content, irritating dialogue, etc. If I can’t clearly see the screenshots, menus, etc., then I have no patience and exit fast. I need to find a comfort level very quickly to settle down and watch a specific video to the end. Even then, if I feel the video is straying away from my interest area, digressing or just going down a rabbit hole, then I abandon ship quickly. So, I imagine the thousands of viewers out there doing exactly the same with my videos—it’s a humbling experience.

That form of teaching tool, whether addressing Millennials or my own Baby Boomer generation, has very strict requirements. Interestingly, these requirements haven’t been imposed by a certification authority or industry standard. It is simply survival of the fittest. If your intended audience is not interested, you’re not going to get the airtime. And, if it’s a revenue-generating business, you’re going to fail.

So, it’s all about engaging and interesting content at a lively pace. Style is important—but who knows what that means? For me, a “Wassup, guys?” opening phrase means a rapid exit. But equally, I am sure that a polite “Welcome to my video!” is a complete turnoff for many.

Needs Analysis

There is also a distinction between training needs and how they fit the on-demand paradigm. Core material has to be learned with some level of discipline. This includes fundamental engineering topics. However, refresher material is perhaps more relevant to the “instant gratification” of on-demand e-learning material.

It is also unclear as to what extent questions and remedial answers are tolerated in this fast-paced video format. The old online drivers’ education and language learning videos could be tortuous. As an educator, I cannot take the stance that a topic is important and should be drilled into viewers (as my old Latin classes did with me). Today, the audience just walks away—and the loss of knowledge is a more diffused effect throughout the engineering community.

I am working toward a new range of on-demand e-learning material and it is certainly going to be an interesting journey. There is a real need for this type of training; however, any success will come down to a balance between engaging, attractive and innovative material (getting people to watch) and solid, relevant content (making it worthwhile for people to watch).

Perhaps my target audience should be engineers at the gym, using precious minutes to grab some rapid training.

Tony Abbey works as training manager for NAFEMS, responsible for developing and implementing training classes, including a wide range of e-learning classes. Check out the range of courses available: nafems.org/e-learning.

About Tony Abbey

Tony Abbey is a consultant analyst with his own company, FETraining. He also works as training manager for NAFEMS, responsible for developing and implementing training classes, including e-learning classes. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.