The article gives details of a strategy being put in place by the Queensland Electricity Commission to "change the face" of technical training within the Transmission Division. Assistance is given to subject experts to prepare learning "guides". Resources such as books, manuals, work instructions, diagrams, videos, site visits, subject experts etc. are selected as appropriate, and subject experts guide learners through the resources in as friendly and sympathetic style as possible. Each guide is short, with clear competency based objectives and opportunities for self testing. Study of the guide is followed by a computer issued and marked test. The marking is characterised by significant feedback. Thus learners find out immediately how they are going and are given support. The unitisation of the material allows flexibility to meet individual needs. The computer is used to administer the whole process.
Suddenly, multiskilling was not just something everyone talked about. Almost overnight, job sharing - the need to be able to carry out additional duties - became a necessity. Training was in demand. About that time, it was recognised that one of the best ways to rapidly and economically train small numbers in the details of a particular task was to use self paced learning techniques. These are still based on identified competency standards coupled with an appropriate form of assessment, but the emphasis shifted from classroom instruction to providing an opportunity for learners to take some of the initiative.
QEC trialed the system in a recently introduced Trainee Paraprofessional Scheme. The trainees were given the opportunity to learn and be assessed for an identified task. The key to the exercise was the assessment. We didn't really mind how the knowledge was gained - we were mainly interested in the attained level of competency.
An interesting by-product occurred in that others who had been in the workforce for some time and who should have known how to do certain tasks better than they did, found a way of learning or re-learning without being embarrassed.
The Award Restructuring process has required a great deal of discipline in documenting workplace practices and needs. Work tasks need to be identified, skills and knowledge requirements documented and training developed to meet those "needs". Joint Working Parties, Joint Workplace Consultative Committees have had a role in this area, but for many industries the results have been disappointing. In particular, in house, industry specific training needs have not been clearly identified within any competency framework.
Thus, both in the preparation of the material and its "delivery", the approach represents a decentralisation of training responsibility.
Self pacing of learning material and associate assessment leads into the development of question banks and automatically into "management of learning" processes. These processes are best handled by computers.
The basic strategies have been as follows:
The use of such Learning Units allows much more flexibility to provide relevant learning opportunities on an individual basis. On the preparation side, it distributes the work load.
Theory. For each Unit a Learning Guide is written, where each guide is designed to direct learners to resource material (manuals, regulations, drawings, videos, etc). Each guide includes "add on" advice and expert knowledge as well as self assessment questions with answers. On completion of a guide, the learner receives a printed computer issued test. The answers may be manually marked (with marks entered to the computer) and the computer program will provide marking and feedback. In this way, the computer can be used to keep track of progress for each learner A learner may need more than one attempt at a test.
Practical. For the learner, directions concerning the practical component are included in the Learning Guide. Mostly they will require the learner to contact a nominated Instructor to be shown how to do something. When a learner is ready, another (practical) test can be issued by the computer. As well as giving instructions as to what to do, this test will normally include a "checklist" for the Instructor (or Supervisor) to mark. Again this practical "Pass" would be recorded in the computer.
Courses and Topics. The use of Units allows a deal of flexibility in matching course material to individual learning needs. In practice, the Units are grouped logically into Topics and the some of the Topics forms the overall Course or Learning Program. However it is possible for a learner to choose individual Units to suit a particular need.
The are many benefits to this, but the most important is that a well thought out Quality Assurance Scheme can allow for maintenance of the "product". Too often, after an enormous amount of effort has gone into preparing course material for some special set of lectures or seminar, six months later (and six years later) that same material is gathering dust on a shelf.
The use of the 'guide to resources' concept and computer issued testing and administration needs some further comment from the point of view of its relationship with technology.
A feature of the guides is the use of self test questions (with answers in the back) and various activities. For example, before the direction to go and watch a video there could be: "Make sure as you watch the video you obtain the answers to the following questions:
Q1. How many ...?These same questions will be asked when you receive your computer issued test." This helps to keep the learners awake! There are many techniques and recommendations for writing "good" Learning Guides - most have come from experience.
Q2. Which of the following ...?
Q3. Yes or No?
While each learner receives an individual Learning Guide or set of Guides, a single set of resources can serve many learners. Another power of the 'guide to resources' approach is that the resources may be imperfect. The subject expert can 'talk' the learner through all sorts of possible difficulties, for example: "Skip Section 2.4 - its too hard to follow, and there's a much better explanation later in this Guide".
Objective type questions are those questions (true/false, multiple choice, completion, numerical and all the variations of these) which are capable of being assessed by the computer for answer acceptability. The computer can issue subjective type questions (essay type questions, practical assignments, etc) but the answers must be assessed by an expert and the marks entered manually.
It requires a lot more work up front to set objective type questions than it does to set an essay type question. But the computer can do the marking and be used to give a lot of support feedback to the learner. This latter is important in an industry/commerce adult learner situation. There is no stigma associated with not reaching the given competency level on the first attempt. The learner follows the feedback advice and has a second attempt later. Failure is not an option.
There is a challenge in setting objective type questions - it is an endangered skill. Within the Queensland Electricity Commission there has been a lot of development work in this area. Objective type questions together with computer support are particularly appropriate in the "in house", competency based training area because:
For this practical segment there should be an 'Instructor Guide' to show clearly what the instructor or supervisor role is, what has to be demonstrated, and so on.
Appendix B shows three typical questions for TEST 1 as they would be issued by the computer. The full test included ten questions many of which were multi-part, and these are drawn at random from a bank of questions. Each learner receives a slightly different test and randomisation is possible within many questions.
Appendix C shows two further questions to demonstrate some of the question possibilities.
|Author: Rod Alford has been employed in the electricity industry for over 20 years, as an electrical engineer, initially in the areas of Construction, Operations and Maintenance and recently in training. The author is a member of the Queensland Electrical and Electronic Industry Training Council, Queensland Electricity Supply Industry Vocational Working Parties and Queensland Industry/TAFE-TEQ curriculum review committee. The author is currently involved in assisting in the introduction of a revised approach to training as part of the award restructuring process in the Queensland Electricity Supply Industry. He can be contacted at Queensland Electricity Commission, 72 Toombul Road, Northgate, Queensland 4013.
Nev Pryor's background includes four years as a lecturer at the (now) Queensland University of Technology as well as three years in the development of systems and methodology associated with Computer Manager Learning. The author's background also includes 25 years as an experienced engineer in the electricity industry as a sympathetic observer of the difficulties faced by adults with a desire and a need to learn, but with little opportunity, encouragement or assistance to do so.
Please cite as: Alford, R. and Pryor, N. (1992). Learning needs in industry: Meeting the challenge. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 39-48. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech92/alford.html