The human touch

July 1, 1998

The Human Touch

By Shanin C. Pepple

July / August 1998

It seems that with today's technology, the possibilities, choices, and opportunities are endless. Maintenance training is benefitting from these new technological opportunities. To help reduce costs and for added convenience, training facilities have embraced newer technologies and have begun to offer less traditional methods of training to its customers. One example is computer-based training (CBT) for initial and recurrent training. With CBT, students work at their own computers, at their own pace, and are led through courses without instructor intervention. Initially, CBT was regarded as a breakthrough in training. The industry discovered, however, that while CBT works well in some applications, it is not the answer to all types of training.

"CBT was going to be all things to all people a few years ago, but I think that the industry has found out that it can't do that," says Lonnie Williams, sales manager of maintenance training for SimuFlite in Dallas,TX. "We had envisioned CBT as a task training device where we put a person in a room for a couple of hours and he/she comes out qualified to remove, replace, and ops check various components. But it just didn't work that way. And we learned that we still had to go through the routine of touching the hardware."

Maintenance training facilities recognize that CBT is not as effective for advanced training that requires more of a human touch. They have found that students need interaction with instructors to properly learn and retain important training information. Although a computer has thorough knowledge of the material, it lacks human knowledge. It doesn't recognize a student's confused expression, nor can it answer specific questions.

"CBT won't necessarily give you specific solutions to problems. The specific questions are going to have to be directed to the customer representatives, customer help desk, or to our customer training center," says Norm Jeche, technical instructor at the Pratt & Whitney Customer Training Center.

Jeche said when CBT first entered the training scene, some stand up instructors feared losing their jobs. The future of training was said to be headed in the direction of fewer instructors, but that philosophy soon changed. "We found out in the last year or so that CBT can't answer every question. There still has to be some interaction with an instructor or someone that can answer your questions."

Bill Wissore, project manager for product advancement for FlightSafety International in Hurst, TX adds, "When we talk about aircraft-specific courses, you are going to need to have someone who has some experience with that aircraft and be able to relate that and answer questions asked by the class."

Besides the benefits of working with an instructor, training facilities have found that students benefit from the interaction with other students.

"Aviation people like to share experiences with one another and they like to have interaction with one another while they are training," said Wissore. "There's a significant advantage to that because a lot of our customers say they like to come to our learning centers and take training with other people because they learn about as much from the experience of others in the class as they do from the instructor leading it. There's a lot of issues that come up. There's a lot of learning that takes place when people interact with each other."

And in a business that spans the globe, training facilities have found that other cultures prefer a friendly face to a computer screen. Plus, customers in many countries aren't comfortable with computer technology.

"A lot of people still prefer things to be done face to face, especially in different countries," Jeche claims.

Instead, they have found that CBT is an excellent tool for teaching remedial, recurrent, and even refresher training material. In fact, they prefer to use CBT for that type of training because it saves time in the classroom. Instructors are not necessary for the level that CBT trains to.

Stanley Greenberg, team leader for computer-based training technologies at Pratt says, "Our near term goals with CBT are two-fold — provide training to as many students as possible, and supply a basic knowledge to our future classroom students so that instructors can focus on more complex and current maintenance training issues. We don't want to get bogged down in the classroom for six days discussing system descriptions and operations. When they arrive here, we would like them to have taken the appropriate CBT courses and be up to a certain level of engine knowledge. Then, from that point forward, we can work on more advanced training like troubleshooting and engine failure analysis."

Richard Wellman, Pratt customer training center manager says, "We don't see it as the final solution to all training. We see it as a component of training. We see it being used remedially where you have someone who doesn't know anything and you can get him or her to a certain point really quick and at their own pace."

In addition, CBT is a vital tool in reaching and making available maintenance training to people around the world. Wellman says, "CBT is one of those ways to get the information to more people than who come to our facility."

Although many training facilities don't offer CBT to their customers and other facilities offer it limitedly, they all recognize the importance of using computers as part of their training. Most facilities offer computer-aided instruction, in which students learn through computer animation with the aid of instructors.

"We use our animated systems software in the classroom to simulate the aircraft systems onscreen so they can see the systems operating, watch the schematics move," said Wissore. "The instructor can control the system on the screen. He just takes his mouse and clicks on the various controls and they can watch actuators move and fluids flow and electrical current flow on screen as it does on the aircraft. That systems knowledge transfers right into their simulator training."

Williams agrees, "When you get that animation in the schematic, it makes a whole lot of sense, especially when you don't have an airplane in the training center parking lot."

Many training facilities are embracing new technology and incorporating it into their current or future courses. Some have plans to bring training to the Internet, providing recurrent training on-line and others are venturing into using satellites, enabling their courses to be broadcast all over the world. Virtual reality also seems to be a promising possibility.

What does the future hold for training? With increasing technological advances, training seems to be getting more advanced and reaching more people. Despite the changes; however, one factor will probably always remain — technology needs a human touch.