Is Online Learning Here to Stay?

More than 2/3 of all U.S. states require engineers to accrue professional development hours. But in the face of ever-compressed schedules, where and how are engineers doing so? An increasingly popular option is online learning. "It's more and more in vogue," said David Courtemanche, P.E., chief electrical engineer, Vanderweil Engineers.

03/01/2004


More than 2/3 of all U.S. states require engineers to accrue professional development hours. But in the face of ever-compressed schedules, where and how are engineers doing so? An increasingly popular option is online learning. "It's more and more in vogue," said David Courtemanche, P.E., chief electrical engineer, Vanderweil Engineers.

In fact, the Boston-based firm produces its own monthly online courses, of which many of its employees take regular advantage. Not only is this good for the individual designer, it's good for the firm.

"This way they can avoid the expense involved in going to a seminar off-site as well as the time it takes them away from work," said Courtemanche.

Online learning is something the National Society of Professional Engineers, Alexandria, Va., promotes, especially because more states seem to be moving in this direction. According to Arthur Schwartz, NSPE's deputy executive director, not only does the organization expect the trend to grow, but branch out, as they're already seeing engineers in training (EITs) utilizing preparatory online courses for P.E. licensing exams.

That being said, Schwartz pointed out that companies and organizations considering such offerings need to be aware of limited attention spans and that it's best to keep the modules limited to 1 to 1

And to continually attract A/Es,Courtemanche added that content must vary, meaning educational offerings often must be increased.

But not everybody is convinced that online education is the wave of the future. Marsha Littell, dean of HOK University at HOK, St. Louis, found that her firm's engineers don't like the experience. "We were investing $60,000 a year in online training, but we've scaled that down quite a bit," says Littell. "It's just not a preferred form of learning."

Meg Brown, director of human resources at A/E Hillier, Princeton, N.J., has had a similar experience.

"I think we'll eventually get there, but there hasn't been a huge push," said the HR director.

Despite the convenience, Brown found her people still prefer textbook-style learning or a live setting, at least when it comes to management training.

In fact, she discovered an unexpected side effect. "Even though we have training rooms set aside for this, people feel guilty if they're doing online training during work hours," Brown said.

Courtemanche admitted that online learning can lack live interaction, but a number of courses are available in real time where questions can be posed to the instructor.

Even so, Karol Kaiser, dean of EYP University at Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture and Engineering's Washington, D.C. office, said technical issues are creating barriers.

For example, the firm developed 10-minute CAD training modules that can be sent out via e-mail, but because the files are large, they hit problems. "It's a great concept, but we're running into technical issues, so we're learning as we go," she noted.

Where they have had greater success is with the company's Intranet, where Kaiser said they offer construction site safety modules.

EYP has also been investing in a hybrid solution where live learning sessions are videotaped and then stored for future e-learning opportunities. "Because this is costly, we are only choosing sessions with broad applicability and long shelf life," said Kaiser. "But it does save travel and time involved in repeating that training in the future."

In addition to their own content, EYP also recommends outside vendors, as does Vanderweil, especially when it comes to soft skills training such as project management, marketing and ethics.



E-Learning Sites

Following is a sample of online offerings:

 

 

 

 

 

 



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