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E- and m-training: glimpsing the future in what we’re doing now

After four failed attempts to build a grassed swale along a motorway to the design and performance specifications, an environmental manager told me she finally got the project engineer to agree that maybe the topsoil had to be sieved after all, and that perhaps it was indeed a good idea to mark out the dimensions for the digger driver to follow. 

Roadside swales are notoriously difficult to build for long term operation and trouble-free maintenance. Fifth time lucky, she got what she wanted – a swale that was properly shaped, compacted, topsoiled and planted – and that didn’t come apart in the rain!
I suggested to her that next time the now-expert team built a swale, she could stand nearby, with a colleague filming everything on video while she explained exactly what they were doing, how they were doing it and why it had to be done that way (noisy machinery may necessitate doing a voice-over later on). Even better to get the operators and other people actually doing the job to explain how they do their work. Then I suggested this video go on the company’s intranet as part of their training and quality procedures so that this knowledge can be easily passed on to others.
This reminded me of the operations manager of a major utility company who decided that with the imminent retirement of a whole tranche of baby-boomers, he needed to film them talking about their routine procedures so they could pass on their skills to the very junior people succeeding them. He got them talking about anything and everything they could think of about the network and the different jobs they did to keep it in good shape. I loved the example he gave of one man describing the exact sound and vibration a valve makes as it’s being properly bled – priceless value!
E-learning and m-learning – electronic and mobile learning – are the way of the future. One e-training project I worked on was really quite astonishingly successful. No matter how interactive they are, such methods will never totally replace face-to-face training or, especially for practical work like environmental management, on-site practical learning. But they will increasingly be used to demonstrate on-the-job skills as part of gaining a qualification. 
Consider this scenario, which I’ve adapted from a story recounted in 2005 at a meeting of the NZ Association of Training and Development by Elizabeth Valentine (now working with a major Industry Training Organisation): 

A worker on a big construction site is doing his round of routine inspections of the erosion and sediment controls. He has a map-based checklist that he can tick off and comment on so he can document and report on what he finds. He also has a smartphone with a camera and the ability to access the as-built diagrams for every measure. He sees something wrong with a large control measure and dials up the as-built to check what it should look like. He takes a photo of the fault and uploads the image to an online register that records the measure’s name and location and the time and date of the photo. The upload alerts the environmental team that a repair is needed. The next device is smaller but also has a minor fault. This time, he photographs and uploads an image of the fault, then fixes it and uploads the image of the repaired and now fully functioning device. He also uploads the last two photos to his e-learning portfolio as part of gaining his work-related qualification.

How cool is that!