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Trainers tip: Mobile learning in the construction industry pt1

17th Jun 2013
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Tony Willson explains how effective mobile learning, thanks to wifi, smartphones and tablets, can be to the construction industry.

The advantages of elearning

Construction is an industry that relies totally on 'people' doing 'things' and so anything that takes a person away from their job, is a cost that can be massive in terms of downtime. 

Training is something that cannot be ignored and it is becoming more and more important in PQQs, tenders and pressure from clients, especially the UK Contractors Group members.  So when training is required, a business has to consider not just the actual costs of a trainer coming in but the costs of having employees travel to a venue and sit through the training - which in almost all circumstances will be a loss of a minimum of four hours each. 

10 employees off a site for that period, could mean a ‘hidden’ cost of around £700 (and more depending upon the hourly rate paid) but, more to the point, 40 hours of lost production. Any means of lessening the time that a person is off site, must therefore be worth looking at.

10 years ago, having a computer on site was something that most companies never considered but now where there is a site office, there is usually a computer. Where broadband isn't available by wire, it is available by various other means including dongles, tablets and mobile telephones. Technology is no longer a bar to online training and, as the cost saving of using elearning can be huge, it can enable organisations to upgrade their site systems at effectively no cost.

Lastly, in recognition of the growing interest in elearning, CITB has introduced a system (albeit a little complicated unless you know how it works) that will pay a grant for employees who undertake this type of training. This means that not only is the format far cheaper than classroom training but you can then get around £5 a time back. It is estimated that you could save up to 80% on your training budget and reduce downtime by over 60%.

Elearning v. classroom courses

The main things to consider when comparing both types of learning delivery is cost and effectiveness:-

Cost - a classroom course for say working at height, usually takes three hours and the average cost of a trainer coming into a company to deliver the course is around £250. This will probably be for a maximum of 15 people, or around £17 per person. However, you have to factor into this cost the amount of downtime on site (half a day per person in this instance) and, if provided, travel costs of delegates and refreshments. An equivalent elearning course would cost anything between £10 and £20 (depending upon volumes purchased) but the time taken for the courses would be around 45 minutes and it can be undertaken on site.

Effectiveness – with classroom courses, it is often said that a person actually takes in very little and with ‘refresher’ type courses, they probably sit there thinking that they know it all anyway. Very few trainers ever use a questionnaire to judge what the person has learnt from a generic type course, although on many accredited courses (IOSH, CIEH etc) they do have to do so. Elearning packages usually do and so an employer or manager can check that the learner actually understood, and learnt from, the course. If a person doesn't comprehend some part of the online course, they can usually go back and re-read it or look at it again. In a classroom, it would take someone with real confidence to say that they hadn’t understood something and would the trainer repeat what they just said! Lastly, with elearning a person can dip in and out of it, as and when time permits whereas they are stuck in a classroom whether they like it or not.

What do you want? 

Before you even start to think about elearning, you need to look at the needs that your company may have. Not every subject is suitable for online learning - you can’t put someone in the recovery position on a first aid course, or practise bending down to lift a weight, or put on an abrasive wheel properly. But there are many subjects, mainly in the health and safety field, that are totally suitable. Asbestos awareness, general health & safety or PPE are all quite easily portrayed through elearning. So first you need to look at what training you may require, whether it is right for online courses and then how much of it you may require. If you are on a CITB Training Plan you will probably have considered this anyway. If not, then it is quite an easy to prepare a simple needs analysis. And don’t forget your labour only subbies as you well may have a responsibility for them.

These days PQQs, tenders, accreditations etc. all look at what training your people have had and so, with the huge savings in using elearning, you can actually plan to be more pro-active and impress your potential clients but at a fraction of the cost of running classroom courses.

Connectivity (the IT bit)

Elearning does what it says on the tin. It enables a person to log on to an internet site and work through a course. The prerequisite is therefore the ability to get an internet connection. This can mean on site, in an office or at home, on a PC, Mac, laptop, tablet or smartphone. These days if a site doesn’t have a broadband connection directly, you can buy a dongle or other equipment that will cost around £10-20 a month depending upon the amount of download capacity required. Looking at the amount of saving that elearning can bring, this cost is miniscule. However, what you need to check out once you are looking at suppliers, is whether their offering is compatible with your hard and software. Some video-based courses are Flash-based and cannot be used on Apple products.

Format

There are two basic formats for elearning courses: one is text- and/or voice-based the other video-based.

Video clips are usually a lot more informative than text and can also be made very graphic and hard hitting using actors and special effects. In learning terms, it is open to argument whether a person learns more when they are watching a scene, or from reading text but many people feel that video transports people to ‘real’ situations far more than text or voice can.

Text with no audio is reputed to allow the learner to do the course at his or her own pace whereas text with audio livens up the experience but it also means that the learner has to read the text at the same, or at a faster pace, than the voiceover. However, on the point of voiceovers, you need to consider whether the voice is acceptable to everyone that may be using the system (although you won’t please everyone!). For example, a very 'posh' voice could sound patronising and English may be hard for a non-English speaking person to understand unless the words are spoken slowly enough.

Usually both text- and video-based courses allow the learner to rewind so that they can ensure that they have understood what is being communicated.

Tony Willson is the MD of elearning company www.elearningforconstruction.co.uk

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