Online learning gained enormous popularity when in-person training sessions stopped during the pandemic. Tool manufacturers and suppliers have increased online training for operating, maintaining and safely using tools and equipment.
Online training in the electrical market ranges from simple how-to videos to interactive training courses replicating in-person training sessions. Safety is an important and popular topic.
The AVO Training Institute, Dallas, has provided electrical maintenance and safety training since 1963 and began online training in 2015. AVO offers more than 50 hands-on courses at locations throughout the United States and around the world, including on-site classes at companies’ and organizations’ locations, said Ralph Parrett, training director.
“We also develop custom programs and have about a dozen electrical certifications,” Parrett said.
Parrett said AVO offers live, virtual courses that cover numerous areas, including protective relay, electrical safety for utilities and industrial facilities, low-voltage circuit breakers, grounding and bonding, substation components, testing and interpretation.
COVID-19 has affected the demand for online training and its content.
“We pivoted from traditional online classes to mostly virtual courses that are live and led by qualified instructors,” Parrett said. “When the coronavirus hit, AVO and everything around us shut down. But the power must always stay on, and training is needed to keep technicians safe as they continued to work. It’s crucial that everyone maintains and grows their skills as their job responsibilities increase in complexity and updates occur. Online and virtual training have allowed us to reach students in a time when they can’t attend live classes.”
Parrett added that online training about electrical topics challenges trainers to rethink how to communicate highly complex content to wider and more diverse audiences. Instead of reaching only the students sitting in one room, they can be in numerous places throughout the world sharing experiences. Instructors are ever-cognizant of the importance of truly communicating vital information to every student on the screen.
“Most online sessions are virtual, live and led by the same highly qualified instructors who teach our in-person and on-site courses,” Parrett said. “They are teaching the same material that students would learn if they attended a live course.
“Online learning provides convenience, especially for students with certification needs who want the flexibility of online learning programs. Although online training will likely never replace our instructor-led, hands-on experience, the safety courses provide much-needed awareness for individuals who, for example, work on energized equipment in an electrical environment.”
AVO’s interactive platform allows for a near face-to-face experience where students and instructors can communicate in real time, and their level of engagement can be easily monitored.
“It’s possible to easily monitor students’ level of engagement,” Parrett said. “Course materials, activities, quizzes and tests are easily accessible through the platform, and there are chat threads that keep the lines of communication active.”
Courses include testing, which is conducted on a platform that grades and reports the results.
Parrett said online testing tends to be viewed positively because the answers are either right or wrong, without the possibility of scores that could be swayed by the unconscious preferences of people doing the grading.
“We are already expanding into other online training areas and are actively working on pioneering the next generation of training methods,” Parrett said.
Heather Rasmussen, global content manager at Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash., said Fluke tools are used in a wide variety of applications across a multitude of industries. Fluke has always understood the need for clear, relevant and modern training experiences at all professional development levels.
Fluke’s topics include the following:
- Digital multimeter basics, which is designed for electrical and maintenance professionals, as well as others who want to learn to better use their digital multimeters
- Electrical measurement safety, which goes through the electrical dangers you may face in the workplace, the safety standards to protect you and the best practices involved with test tool safety
- Electrical power explained, which is an introduction to power measurement theory
- Insulation resistance, which is all about insulation resistance testing, voltage requirements, equipment types, testing environment, etc.
- Motor and drive troubleshooting, which is designed for maintenance professionals who have a working understanding of motor drive systems
Has the pandemic affected training?
“Fluke worked to maintain its online courses, but reduced the number of educational webinars,” Rasmussen said. “This was primarily due to the changes in workforce among the most common industries we serve. With reduced workforces and a realignment of priorities among those who remained, we opted to slow the new development of online trainings in the form of webinars. Over the past year, however, Fluke has once again started offering new online training opportunities to serve the industries most in need.”
Online training programs have been at the forefront of professional education for many industries over the years due to their accessibility, efficiency in learning and low costs, Rasmussen said.
Ross Ignall, director of product management, marketing and technical support at Edison, N.J.-based Dranetz Technologies, said online training is not new to Dranetz, but the company began to rely much more on online training after COVID-19 hit.
“COVID forced us to all be remote for long periods,” he said. “We were remote from our office and our customers. As a result, we improved our web meeting tools, our website and corporate communications to redirect our efforts from being mostly in person to mostly remote. Now we are operating a hybrid model. In addition to direct paid-for customer training, we conducted many public webinars for all to attend. We record each public training session and post links to our YouTube channel on our website. All are free to watch.”
People who attend the live webinar can ask questions and have a dialog with the speakers and other factory experts. People who cannot attend can view the recordings at their leisure.
Live sessions are usually 45-minute Zoom meetings with introductions and question/answer time.
“Online training has become an important training tool and is here to stay,” Ignall said. “However, in some cases it’s difficult for online to replace in-person. Yes, it can be more cost-effective, but being remote can reduce the effectiveness of training. Online is more like a monologue, versus a dialogue with in-person attendees. This is especially true for longer sessions. Attention spans are limited, and attendees can be easily distracted and lose focus.”
Dranetz will continue online training.
“I think it is here to stay, partially as a cost-savings tool, but there are other benefits. We will be phasing back in our in-person training and seminars as current events permit,” Ignall said.
William Kruger, technical and training manager at All-Test Pro, Old Saybrook, Conn., said the company’s online training was initially prompted by customers operating in different times zones from All-Test Pro’s location, customers’ staff availability and costs related to in-person training. COVID-19 was not a factor when this method of instruction was introduced because it did not yet exist, but, due to the pandemic, online training has become more acceptable.
“I believe the pandemic influenced more people to recognize the benefits of virtual training versus personal training than in prior years, especially those not affected by time zones, staff and resources,” Kruger said. “So online training has increased these past two years due to these factors. We have found online learning and testing popular with those who take part.
“We offer 12 different virtual training options for motor circuit analysis (MCA) and electrical signature analysis (ESA) motor diagnostics, including Level I and Level II options. MCA courses present the basic theories and principals necessary to understand the concepts and principles associated with this technology. It identifies the types of faults and guidelines that can be detected with this motor testing method.
“ESA courses are introductions to ESA and present the basic theories and principles necessary to understand this technology and how ESA uses the motor’s supply voltage and operating current to detect and identify faults in the motor system,” he said.
Sessions are generally held through Microsoft Teams, with the teacher on a web camera and most attendees interacting with the teacher and other students.
The most important benefit for online or virtual training is for the customer, Kruger said. The customer can schedule the event and time, control costs and bring in all the staff who need to learn versus selecting just a few and sending them for training. Training can be accomplished for the customer with several facilities, so they are all trained simultaneously.
“Online training also benefits the organizations conducting the training,” he said. “It provides the ability to train multiple facilities at one time or schedule one virtual training on the other side of the world. Then trainers can present another learning event the following day somewhere else without travel delays, etc.”
Some tests are shown with virtual instruments on the screen, such as a virtual hand and instrument so users can see how actions are performed.
“Virtual training is now more popular than in-person training,” Kruger said.