A CLASS BY ITSELF
Web-based machining classes make
employee training easy.
BY PATRICIA L. SMITH
Imagine training new
hires right at the machine tools they’re running, without taking up valuable
cycle time. Or sending experienced employees home with Pocket PCs that contain
lessons on the latest machining technologies. That’s what webbased training can
do, says Jack H. Schron Jr., founder of Tooling University, Cleveland.
Tooling University isn’t a physical campus, but rather
an on-line training site offering beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes
in workholding, metalcutting, CNC, metalforming, materials, and material
handling. Shop Essentials, the latest department, covers basic algebra,
geometric tolerancing, and blueprint reading, among other things. Tooling U
puts the curriculum together with input from industry-leading companies,
training providers, industry experts, and community colleges.
In a basic course like “Chucks, collets, and vises
110,” a student learns to identify and describe uses for these workholding
devices. “Basic shop math 110,” another beginner-level class, reviews basic
fractions and decimals as well as triangle and circle geometry relevant to the
shop. An intermediatelevel lesson, such as “Cutting variables 200,” teaches
about the variables that impact common machining operations, while “CNC manual
operations 200” describes the control features that let a CNC operator manually
“Tooling U gives you 100% web-based training,”
comments Schron, who is also president and CEO of Cleveland-based workholding
company Jergens Inc. “That means you can log in from home at 10 p.m. or at your
desk at the office. You can even log in from a machine tool on the shop floor,
provided you have Internet access and an Internet-enabled machine tool
Tooling University is available to individual users,
corporations, and other groups. Currently, more than 300 students are enrolled
in the site’s more than 30 classes. Another 30 courses will be posted later
this year, including press operations, modular workholding, composites, and
quality control. Students range from experienced machinists who want to expand
their metalworking knowledge to new employees seeking basic information to
improve their skills.
The lessons are set up so that the student sets his
own pace, taking a class in a day or a week, and sometimes longer. The student
can stop at any point, then pick up where he left off.
Classes present information in text, audio, and video
formats. Each lesson includes learning objectives, outlines, pre-tests, and
post-tests as well as learning aids such as photographs, related descriptions,
frequently asked questions, and vocabulary definitions. “But no matter what
department or level, all classes have a similar look and feel,” says Schron.
For students with a slow Internet connection, Tooling
U offers a CD-ROM for full-motion video and audio files. The classes, though,
are still on-line.
For a typical lesson, a student reads the lecture or
listens to the audio presentation, which reads the lesson word for word.
“Educational models show that some students learn best verbally, while others
prefer reading the information on their own,” explains Schron. Each lesson
contains boldfaced vocabulary words. Students look up these terms by placing
their cursor over the word to trigger a definition box.
Students wanting a hard copy of a lesson can print
copies, which they can place in a binder. They can also use Tooling U’s
electronic notebook feature, which lets them copy the text into a box at the
bottom of the lesson to call up when needed.
Students with questions or problems can turn to
Tooling U’s Tooling Professor. This special feature connects the student to a
Tooling U faculty member who answers questions about the lesson. Students can
also ask other students for help through Tooling U’s forums and chatrooms.
“The forums let students post questions and
upload application photos,” explains Schron. “Tooling University also has
chatroom sessions with industry experts and a large industrialresources section
containing helpful charts, formulas, conversion factors, and an industrial
At the end of each course, students take a
final exam. Once they complete the exam, they may view the questions,
their answers, and the correct answers. Tooling U doesn’t stop there; it also
gives explanations of each question and links back to the relevant lesson.
“Tooling University won’t replace hands-on training,”
says Schron. “But on-line training can often replace an instructor behind a
podium. That leaves more time for the hands-on training.”
The corporate connection
Metalworking companies may purchase training subscriptions with unlimited
access to Tooling U departments for one year. If they wish, they can set up the
corporate account so that their own supervisors or managers monitor employee
progress, schedules, and attendance. The tuition is $399 a year for one seat
(one student). “The seat gets all the functionality, all the administration,
and all the testing and monitoring documentation for human resources,” says
Schron. “The administration side lets training managers or shop-floor
supervisors guide the progress of their employees,” explains Greg Jones,
director, marketing and sales. “They can log in to review the user’s progress.
They can check on their status — what time they logged in, how they’re doing in
their tests and quizzes, their log-in history, and what questions they’re
asking faculty members. They can even send messages like ‘nice job on that last
test,’ ‘you’re on the right track,’ and so forth.”
While Tooling U has on-line final exams, some
companies may prefer to print out a hard copy of the test and give it to their
employees. “Since this is web-based training, someone can ‘whisper’ answers
over a student’s shoulder,” remarks Jones. The hard copy eliminates this
problem by providing the training administrator with checks and balances. An
added bonus of printing out tests is that companies can use them to screen
Being able to track employee progress gives a company
a good overview of its in-house capabilities. “Perhaps a company will learn
that its employees don’t have a grasp of the importance of ISO. It might then
decide to nurture that concept within the organization,” says Schron. “Or maybe
an individual doesn’t understand indexable carbides and should be taken off a
$100,000 machine tool.”
Tooling U also lets companies create customized
training, targeted to its employees. It does this by either developing new
courses with company input or converting a company’s existing training
materials into web-based classes. Customized classes can then be password
protected for an intended audience within a company.
Another way businesses customize the Tooling U
experience is by
setting “permissions” for their trainees. For instance, they may require that
employees complete prerequisite classes, take pre-tests, and achieve
performance minimums before proceeding to the next level.
“Everything is permission-based, role-based
security,” says Chad Schron, Tooling U’s senior web developer. “So corporations
set permissions as to what the user can and can’t do.” A new employee, for
example, might be required to take classes in a particular order, while an
experienced worker might be allowed to skip around. The new hire, however,
might be allowed to re-take exams as many times as he wants versus an
experienced employee, who might only take exams once. The company also decides
whether or not students are given answers when they’re done with exams.
Companies can also customize the Tooling Professor.
“For instance, I’m one of the Big Three automakers,” says Jones. “Rather than
sending my employee’s questions to Tooling U faculty or other students, I route
them to a designated in-house person for company-specific answers. Other
students would not see my faculty members — just my employees.”
With a corporate subscription of 25 students or more, Tooling U provides a
Hewlett-Packard Pocket PC that provides relatively inexpensive Internet access.
“The great thing about the pocket PC is that it lets students learn anytime and
anywhere,” says Jones.
To use the device, the training manager assigns each
trainee a course curriculum and a pocket-PC schedule. The administrator then
uses a USB cradle to load Tooling U courses to the wireless device and to
synchronize with the Tooling U on-line administration tools for each student.
The student/employee takes the device home to work on a class and brings it
back to the training manager. All the manager does is drop it into the cradle,
which synchronizes it back to the Internet with all the things the student
worked on — the classes he took and his test and quiz scores.
According to Jones, the goal of alternative methods of
delivering course content, such as the Pocket PC and the machine tool control,
is helping trainees work at their own pace. But these tools are also part of a
bigger e-learning picture. He sums up the importance of e-learning among U.S.
and global businesses by citing John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems. In his
keynote remarks at the Comdex show, Chambers said, “It’s not just about any
time, anywhere,” for e-learning; it’s about “availability on any device and
A demonstration and information about registering
at ToolingU are available by visiting