Approximately one year ago, NTMA announced
a partnership with Cleveland-based
Tooling University to deliver online courses in
machining technology for members at a discount
from the regular annual subscription of $399 per
student. Education Team leader Steve Tamasi
said, "It's important for NTMA to begin offering
technology solutions that could improve the
effectiveness of technical training for our members."
Since then many of you have probably
visited the website (www.toolingu/ntma) for
additional information, and we've answered a
variety of questions from potential users. We
thought it would be useful now to highlight the
experiences of a couple of typical Tooling U customers
so we've picked one member company
(Oberg Industries, Pittsburgh Chapter) and one
school (Gateway Community College, Phoenix).
Oberg Industries (Freeport, PA) has a long
history of corporate commitment to training, particularly
in tool and die apprenticeship. Their program
is registered through the U.S. Department
of Labor with both the associated theory classes
and OJT experience delivered onsite. The
coursework sequence is highly customized for
Oberg's business niche, and the assumption is
that beginning students do not need any relevant
experience. For some time the company
has been moving toward competency based instruction
and a pay for skills performance evaluation
Safety and Training Manager Greg Chambers
recalls, "Like almost everyone else in the
industry, we've been hit hard by the economy
the last three years and were due for a review
of our training methods. Our continuous
improvement plan already had us
starting to evaluate alternative delivery
methods, and the economy probably accelerated
Geography and specific course selection
make it difficult for company employees
to tap into the chapter-sponsored
classes offered through evening programs
at local vocational centers. This problem
increased when two of these sites were
closed because of low enrollment.
Although Oberg is a large company by
NTMA standards (500 employees), the issues
they identified in evaluating computerbased
training (CBT) are common to smaller
firms. Questions like the following highlight
some key areas of concern:
- Should we use CD-ROM or Internet
- What are the workstation requirements?
- Are there bandwidth limitations?
- How do we provide multi-site support?
- What level of computer competence will
students (and instructors) need?
- How are tests administered and monitored?
There were some additional questions
relating to the existing classroom instructional
methods. For example, the instructors
were not sure how to balance CBT and traditional
classroom formats. Another point
of uncertainty was when to introduce CBT.
"Our internal customers were very skeptical
about the value of using computers and
were completely against simply having an
electronic textbook," said Chambers. Answering
their questions was obviously a key
to building ownership of any plan.
The company developed an e-learning
strategy with the following measurable
- Overall program cost reduction
- Flexibility and control for shop floor
- Productivity improvement for students
- Benchmarking for progress checks
- Correlation with the OJT portion of apprenticeship
- Fit with company strategic planning
After careful review and evaluation,
Oberg decided to start by using Tooling U
modules as part of their orientation sequence.
Basically, new students are given a
list of 15 core courses they have to complete
plus they must choose at least five
more "electives" for a total of 20 courses.
Tooling U worked out a modified subscription
structure that allows Oberg to purchase
units of 90-day duration. Students are assigned
a password ID and must complete
the orientation phase within the 90-day time
frame. This is a supervised activity at the
company with students getting 1-2 hours
of release time during their regular work
Feedback from management has been
very positive about the ease of implementation
and management of the system. Individual
student record keeping is automated
with detailed reports available on-demand.
And the instructors and students can interact
through a proprietary email section that
creates the feel of a classroom discussion
session or individual Q/A exchange. Managers
also give the Tooling U technical support
staff high marks in responding to problems
that arise with both software and content
Two important outcomes have resulted
that were not part of the original expectation.
First, the weeks of e-learning activity
allow instructors to observe work habits and
technical strengths/weaknesses in students
that a single testing session would never
reveal. Students likewise get a chance to
explore individual interests more thoroughly
Second, the instructors have noticed
an improvement in "class" performance
when the "online" learners enter the traditional
class sequence. The common experience
of online instruction develops a unified
content background base and vocabulary
so less time is spent getting everyone on
the same page. Expectations of both instructors
and students are more synchronized
with the reality of the curriculum requirements.
What's Oberg's vision for the future of
online training? Starting with a block of 50
subscriptions, they have now sent 30
through this e-learning experience. They are
considering other ways to build this into
their ongoing training program. One aim is
to involve more advanced students in problem
solving scenarios and authentic job related
tasks. Of course this requires
increasing the graphics capability and interactive
options for the existing software
package. Tooling U is working on ways to
integrate this into their system.
Oberg also wants to offer non-technical
courses to the incumbent worker population
-perhaps supervision or safety
related instruction. Obviously remedial instruction
can be delivered through this type
of approach, and documentation provided
for the benefit of managers and the employees
"So far our experience has been both
rewarding and challenging for both students
and staff," says Chambers, "but we
all realize that we are just beginning to utilize
the potential of online delivery."
Next month we'll continue this investigation
with a look at how Gateway Community
College is using Tooling U to enhance
their Machining Technology degree programs.
For more information about the
NTMA/ Tooling U partnership contact Dick
Walker in the NTMA Education Department
or visit the website at www.toolingu/ntma.