Several of the Fiber Optic Association’s (FOA) directors are experienced fiber techs and trainers interested in methods of delivering and assessing the effectiveness of online training. Needless to say, our discussions have been lively over the last year and a half as many FOA-approved schools were closed during the pandemic and much training moved online.
During the shutdown, FOA worked with schools to implement blended learning, where the classroom work is done online before the student comes into the classroom for hands-on skills training. Blended classes reduced the time students had to be in a classroom, reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Schools were quite innovative in how they created safe lab environments.
The FOA also developed some completely remote labs for schools when bringing students into the lab was not possible. Students were given kits with the necessary tools and components for the labs and told to follow directions online. Instructors evaluated the students’ work using videoconferencing, something all of us have gotten plenty of experience with.
The projects’ successes have led to expansion beyond the FOA schools’ formal classes because not everyone needing training has the opportunity to attend these classes in-person, especially in difficult economic times. Companies are often reluctant to send their employees to classes because of training costs and the time lost.
The FOA likes to point out that training has a big payback. A director sent me “A Review of the Literature on Structured On-the-Job Training and Directions for Future Research,” published in the journal “Human Resource Development Review.” The authors made two relevant remarks.
“Though sometimes viewed as an expense factor by organizations, when used appropriately, training yields an array of returns to an extent higher than almost any other human resource development intervention.”
“Beyond the acquisition of knowledge and skills, training also helps employees and organizations to improve performance, including produce higher quality products, successfully manage conflicts, encourage greater job engagement, and organizational commitment among other outcomes.”
That same article got to the heart of the matter just a few sentences later: “A review of literature of the history of training reveals that much of its origins come from the use of training located on the job, or on-the-job training (OJT).”
Of course, we all know that! Most training occurs on the job where the employee learns by doing under the guidance of a fellow employee or supervisor. That’s how most of us learned our jobs.
The other thing we all know about OJT is that it can be “hit or miss,” depending on the complexity of the task and the teacher’s competence.
Again, from that academic article: “Thus, organizations have logically sought to use more planned, systematic and structured processes for developing employees.”
Over the last year, FOA has been working with advisers and some companies to see if OJT can be made more effective by using techniques we developed for blended and remote learning. A big advantage we have in 2021 is how aware everyone is of the possibilities of online education and the acceptance of it as a logical way to learn.
The FOA wants to bring structure to OJT. To understand what this might look like, consider the scenario of a novice joining a fiber optic contractor as a field tech.
When the novice tech starts work and is learning what their job entails, the first stage of OJT, they are assigned to take the Basic Fiber Optics online self-study course on Fiber U, FOA’s free online learning site. Once the novice tech finishes this course, they will have a good basic knowledge of fiber optics, including how to design, install, test and operate fiber optic networks. They will have the background knowledge they need for their job.
Next, the novice tech needs to learn skills such as installing cable, splicing, terminating and testing. Those skills will be learned on the job, supported by online resources such as the Fiber U Basic Skills Lab or the training material from product manufacturers that can be studied before beginning field work. That makes the learning process much more efficient and easier for their field supervisor.
The key here is “structured.” OJT can be more effective when the tech uses online resources to prepare for the tasks they will learn in the field.