Digital training evolving into valuable asset for meeting challenges of skills, generation gap

Posted on 08 November 2010

By Zahid Yoosufani and Michael Anderson, PETEX

Digital training can be a solution when cost and time away from the job are obstacles to increasing employee training. Options such as e-books, videos on demand and online courses can help workers to learn without limitations on time and place.

Digital training can be a solution when cost and time away from the job are obstacles to increasing employee training. Options such as e-books, videos on demand and online courses can help workers to learn without limitations on time and place.

The drilling industry faces the “Big Crew Change” as a generation of experienced workers retires while improved extraction techniques demand increased technical expertise. Huda Ghoson, general manager of training and development, Saudi Aramco, spotlighted the impending skills gap at the recent World National Oil Congress.

We need to know more, share more and improve more, but tried-and-true ways of learning must be relearned. Despite this desperate need for learning, a 2010 survey of 1,100 businesses in the EU cited cost and time away from the job as obstacles to increased training. Digital training represents an efficient and effective solution.

Digital training covers a broad spectrum of technologies, ranging from electronic files to computer-based training, from email-like discussion forums to live webinars. While digital training uses its own jargon, the goal is as basic as drilling a hole in the ground: to help people learn.

WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE IS…

Just as there is no “right” casing for every hole, there is no “right” method of training for every person. Some people learn more effectively from visuals, some from audio, some from reading text, and some from hands-on exercises. Providing a variety of methods addresses as many learning styles as possible.

One strength of digital training is that the technology allows content to be easily repurposed into multiple delivery formats. For example, videos can provide realistic illustrations with accompanying audio; the audio can be transformed into a textual script for later reference and multiple language translations.

The key is finding the most effective delivery format for each learner and each learning goal.

TYPES OF DIGITAL TRAINING

The types of digital training are as varied as drilling techniques, but a convenient method for categorizing them is to view how the individual learns. This learner-centric approach suggests four broad categories:

1. E-books

E-books are digital replicas of familiar print materials. Content is delivered asynchronously – when and where the learner needs the information. On their own, e-books usually serve as a reference. While they offer the convenience of self-pacing, e-books are passive learning tools, which are best-suited for disciplined students.

2. Streaming videos

Online videos accessed on demand are also delivered asynchronously, but because of the immersive experience that multimedia provides, videos can substitute for classroom and field demonstrations. By offering videos in a variety of stream “sizes,” learners with slower Internet connections can take advantage of just-in-time realistic content that appeals to multiple learning styles. Like e-books, videos are passive and require students to deliberately access the content and manage their own knowledge construction.

3. Online courses

Quality online courses combine the learning styles of e-books and videos and offer the same time and place independence. By including interactive exercises and quizzes, online courses provide more active learning for students. However, its most compelling advantage is the ability to track and record skills acquisition, thereby meeting the practical goal of improved job performance.

4. Webinars

Webinars represent a blended approach that combines the appealing attributes of video with the social experience of a classroom. They promote learning communities, especially if the moderator encourages audience dialogue. Webinars also require synchronous delivery and often demand broadband network access in order to be effective. Although webinars may be archived for later retrieval, the archives are similar to videos in terms of learner involvement.

The drilling industry faces the “Big Crew Change” as a generation of experienced workers retires while improved extraction techniques demand

The drilling industry faces the “Big Crew Change” as a generation of experienced workers retires while improved extraction techniques demand

THE SURVEY SAYS…

These four broad categories are not mutually exclusive. Research conducted by PETEX in 2008 found that clients were most interested in blended models that combined the scalability of computer-based management with the individualization of instructor-facilitated classes.

The same clients saw digital training as a way to engage the “millennial” generation of workers, most of whom are highly comfortable with online interaction. Diana Oblinger, president of Educause and a former director for Microsoft, asserts that the new generation views computers and the Internet not as technology but as part of life: They expect 24/7 access to information delivered in multiple modes. In short, they want training their way. The ability to provide learning right when it’s needed is critical to connecting with the new workforce.

GETTING STARTED

Getting started with digital training is not difficult. However, a long-term strategy requires that several vital features of online content be considered:

• Modular content should be delivered in small lessons that are easy to digest. Workers aren’t always available for weeklong courses, and content that can be accessed when and where it’s needed – and then immediately applied on the job – has greater “sticking” power.

• Transportable content permits delivery alternatives. Content – as well as learner management – should be available as hosted, as well as internal options.

• Reusable content enables repurposing for multiple delivery modes. Generic topics can be interspersed with company-specific topics to contextualize learning.

• Standardized content that adheres to established specifications (such as the Department of Defense’s SCORM format) empowers companies to mix and match from best-of-breed content providers. When delivery technologies change, standardized content can be moved easily to the new platform.

Online training is not for everyone in every situation, but some aspect of digital training should be integrated into every company’s plan to address the looming knowledge crisis. With its inherent flexibility, its ability to address multiple learning modes, and its appeal to the younger workforce, digital training offers a solution that is both highly successful and cost-effective.

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