The benefits of both traditional learning and online blended learning

At a recent Yorkshire Branch meeting, Chris Kirby of IMechE Argyll Ruane gave a presentation on online and blended learning. The debate that took place after the meeting was longer than the presentation.

It was interesting to hear how some of the more mature members had trained in NDT under an apprenticeship scheme, something that fell by the wayside in the UK many years ago for the majority of newcomers into NDT, but has since been reintroduced in England by the government (see Roger Lyon’s articles).

The apprenticeship schemes were considered to be a very good route into NDT, especially for the younger person. The presentation group was biased towards people who were nearing towards the end of their working days and the majority professed a preference to having a paper copy to read from rather than a laptop or other device, but did recognise that the digital natives would probably prefer their information to be available electronically. I have recently attempted online courses and assessments and found that I was taking notes on paper while reading the digital text. However, the parts of the course that featured embedded videos were very efficient for passing across information that would not have been possible with a hard copy of the material. One of the participants stated that blended learning with the assessment process, which the student has to pass before moving on to the next part, was an update of the general dynamics textbooks, where there were short question and answer quizzes at the end of a paragraph that guided the reader back to a topic if the question was answered incorrectly. To transfer parts of a course into electronic format is very demanding on resources, but can more easily be updated and has no associated printing costs. One of the advantages of classroom training is that a theory session can be backed up with a practical session; one school in the USA addresses this by sending out physical practical samples for the candidate to practice on. Another advantage is that the student can work at their own pace, but this was countered by the suggestion that the employer would not give the student time to study or, if they did, there would be the usual disturbances that a working day brings to contend with. Cost was discussed, with the reduction in accommodation fees for the student or their employer being seen as an advantage. However, the final online course fees were also considered, which need to reflect the cost of generating the material and providing a tutor to be available to answer questions in a timely 

Most of us use the internet to research information at work or socially and some people seem to be welded to their mobile phones. Many other training providers have online training programmes that are readily accepted. Overall, it was considered that the current formalised training requirements are an improvement on what was historically allowed and that there is a place for blended learning, but it will not suit all people at all times.

After the meeting, I concluded that there are strong cases for both traditional learning and online blended learning, providing both are controlled, ensuring that the student receives a good learning experience.

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