Training – Lesson 2

Were you able to think of any instances where you have suddenly found a simple way of doing something better? I am sure that if you had thought seriously about this you would have come up with any number of examples. These are simple examples of where you have been trained or educated in an informal way. I would suggest that such informal training is becoming more prevalent, and increasingly important, for more serious things than the efficient operation of a slide projector, ensuring you don’t burn your mouth with a Cup-a-Soup and making washing up easier after cooking scrambled eggs.

Traditionally, and within the current NDT qualifications, training is delivered in a classroom by a trainer. The trainer educates the trainees in the basic underlying knowledge, shows them the practical application of the particular technique and then guides them as they practise the newly-gained skill. The standards stipulate the minimum number of hours for the length of this training. They also acknowledge that such training needs to be reinforced by practical application under supervision. So, the qualification demands a minimum number of hours’ experience in applying the technique in addition to this training. This experience is on-the-job training and, to be effective, it should be formally planned and recorded, with the trainee obtaining feedback and reviewing what has been learned.

Formal training, both in the classroom and on the job, is crucial to the development of competent personnel. In his book entitled Nerve, Taylor Clark relates how training overcomes people’s personal dispositions when they face stressful situations. However, for experience to be useful it needs to be challenging, focusing on weaknesses, and it has to include feedback that allows your approach to be fine-tuned.

With technology changing at the pace it is, it is no longer possible to attend training courses covering all the various changes and updates that we are faced with in the workplace. There is neither the time nor the money to do so. One alternative is to undertake self-learning, either through online courses, online help or reading manuals or textbooks from cover to cover. Who has the motivation or time to do that? What we tend to do is teach ourselves the basics that we need to know in order to get by, achieve our objectives and then, over a period of time, we may refine that knowledge with the help of other people and sources of information.

In a TED talk in 2010, Sugata Mitra[1] described an experiment in which he embedded a computer, connected to high-speed internet, in a wall in a New Delhi slum. The local children, although they didn’t speak English, soon taught themselves how to use the computer. One young boy brought his sister along and taught her how to browse the web. Other children recorded their own music and played it back. This wasn’t a fluke. The experiment has been reproduced in a number of places around the world. Mitra states that where there is interest then education happens. He has gone on to develop what he calls Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE). Within a self-organising system, a structure appears without outside influence. In addition, emergence occurs – the system starts to do things it wasn’t designed to do.

There are a number of key ingredients that are required to ensure learning occurs. The first is that children learn in groups. The second is what Sugata Mitra calls the method of the grandmother: someone to stand behind the group and encourage them.

If you look around your workplace you may be able to identify some SOLEs. Maybe your team is one, with different individuals providing support to each other on particular topics. The BINDT Branch meetings could be classed as one. The designation of super-users to provide support for new software packages could also be classed as a sort of SOLE. However, maybe it is time to acknowledge that a lot of key training/learning does happen informally and we should put effort into providing the resources to allow SOLEs to flourish, rather than leaving it to chance. Taylor Clark, in Nerve, describes how reading the aircraft emergency card before take-off increases people’s chances of survival in the event of a crash. So, it is worth remembering that a small piece of training can have a big impact!

Reference 1. _child_driven_education.html

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of AMEC or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Newton Building, St George’s Avenue, Northampton NN2 6JB. Fax: 01604 89 3861; Email:

or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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