Four Questions For...

Pamela Aigner, Director of Online Programs for Westinghouse Electric Co.

We asked Pamela Aigner, Director of Online Programs for Westinghouse Electric Co. about the company’s new customer training initiative.

1) What customer training practices/programs have been responsible for your department’s success over the past year or two?

We have traditionally offered courses in a classroom training format. We now offer many of these same courses in a blended online learning format. This blended format allows us to cover much of the theory in small chunks over several weeks prior to a face-to-face session, during which students perform work-related tasks on modeled plant equipment.

The availability of blended online learning courses has really helped our customers to deal with maintaining employee qualifications with much less impact on plant work schedules. These programs also allow students to work at their own pace and ask questions without fear of holding other students back or getting classroom discussions off topic. The online learning component has allowed us to customize our courses to meet each student’s needs, resulting in better plant performance.

2) What problems did you encounter in implementing such programs?

Asynchronous online learning is relatively new to the nuclear industry. Initially, there were some cultural issues that we had to work through to gain acceptance for online learning in such a conservative environment. However, these problems were largely resolved once students and their management saw the learning results and got more comfortable with the technology. There are still a few students who prefer face-to-face training courses, but ultimately we are more concerned about learning results than preference for a delivery format.

3) How did you solve those problems?

To facilitate cultural change, we began by developing champions for online learning within our customers’ organizations. Further, our instructors had to understand the significant differences between online learning and traditional classroom training. Consequently, we require our online instructors to have a minimum of master’s-level certification in online teaching and learning, and preferably a master’s degree in the field. They must also serve as learning coaches to support our students in the transition to online learning. This ensures that the end result is high-quality training that is effectively facilitated.

4) What kind of feedback have you received from satisfied customers?

Our customers and students have been pleased — and in some cases surprised — with the effectiveness of blending online learning with face-to-face training. Managers of our learners have reported both performance and operational improvements after training. Specifically we have seen evidence of better working knowledge, increased post-training information retention, better integration and synthesis of information, increased problem solving efficiency, better communication skills and improvements to procedures as a result of our blended training methods.

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