Dec 09, 2003

E-Learning for the Pump Industry:

What the water and wastewater industry should know about this latest trend

Not unlike many in today’s demanding economy, the pump
industry finds itself focused on change and growth, while at the same time
charged with lowering costs and improving product offerings and services. At
the center of this challenge is education, as ever-changing task environments
and vast technology options are requiring professionals to commit to ongoing
training and development. Training and instruction are no longer just for
industry newcomers. Even the most experienced professionals understand the importance
of staying current with industry trends and emerging technologies.

The quest for knowledge may be due in part to ongoing
concerns about the energy consumption of pumping systems, which happens to
account for nearly 20% of the world’s electrical energy demand and ranges
from 25’50% of the energy usage in certain industrial plant operations.
The energy costs of a pump or pumping system, together with the initial
investment and subsequent maintenance expenses, are all influenced by design and
usage specifications. Accordingly, the better informed one is in the purchase,
specification and design of pumps, the more efficient and profitable a pumping
system will be.

Over the years, the Hydraulic Institute (HI) has responded
to the call for continuing education by producing pump handbooks, an extensive
line of ANSI-approved pump standards and related pump resources as well as its
recent collaboration with EUROPUMP on a comprehensive reference guide for
calculating the life cycle costs for industrial pumps and pumping systems.
However, the demand for enhanced knowledge continues to grow.

A recent HI survey of pump manufacturers, government
officials, engineering construction firms and consultants revealed a strong
interest in professional-level learning tools that would save time and fit into
the pressured schedules of an overextended work force. With that, HI joined a
growing number of associations, which conduct training and education coursework
online, with the introduction of an e-Learning program on the fundamentals,
design and application of centrifugal pumps.

Driving force

For the pump industry, there are several factors
contributing to the trend in e-Learning. HI’s has been significantly
impacted by the current economic climate, resulting in downsizing of staff and
marked reductions in educational/training expenses. At the same time, HI is
seeing some of the industry’s most experienced engineers retiring,
creating a void in “learn-on-the-job” mentoring. There also is the
continuous product improvement and innovation in pump technology to
communicate, not to mention the growing number of computer savvy engineers,
designers, purchasers and contractors, a prime audience for e-Learning.

While HI has not fully grasped the potential of e-Learning,
it does impact cost savings, productivity improvement, revenue growth and the
ability to outpace competitors. That is why there is little doubt that
e-Learning is rapidly emerging as the tool of choice for professional
development and education.

Development of HI’s e-Learning program was itself a
learning experience for all involved. If nothing else, the process taught the
importance of defining educational needs and evaluating each component of an
educational tool. The following criteria provides guidance for selecting the
appropriate learning tool for your needs.

Defining requirements

There are many considerations that go into selecting a
professional development program, in particular an e-Learning tool, including
the objectives of the program, time availability and financial resources.
Without question, the program should be credible and authoritative. The course
content should be developed by leading industry and educational experts,
regularly reviewed and updated accordingly.

Timing is another factor. Learning via the Internet offers a
convenience and flexibility unmatched by other vehicles, allowing the user to
train at home or on the job, day or night, at an individual’s own pace.
For employers, e-Learning also offers the option of training one employee at a
time or an entire staff.

For companies looking to develop an e-Learning program of
their own, there are additional considerations.

Will there be enough potential users to justify development
costs? Will users be computer literate? Will there be management and technology
support for the program? If a company is not ready to make such an investment,
then it should consider testing the waters with some of the newer web-based
programs already on the market. Some of them can be adapted to your needs for a
fraction of the initial production costs.

Advantages of e-Learning

As with any emerging technology, skeptics are quick to point
out the drawbacks. Concerns about lack of human contact, limited interactivity
and technical issues such as bandwidth limitations are among them.
Nevertheless, the advantages of e-Learning far outweigh any perceived

E-Learning is a viable teaching tool and with good reason.

*                Easily
Accessible: Programs can be accessed from any computer, from anywhere in the
world, by web browsing software on popular platforms.

*                Flexible
and Convenient: Users can progress at their own pace, at any time of the day,
in a location of their choice.

*                Cost
Effective: Because there are no travel costs associated with bringing employees
together to one location for instruction, significant savings are realized.
Training by computer translates into time savings as well.

*                Consistent:
The centralized nature of the web ensures that course content delivery is
standardized for all users who take the course. Every participant is receiving
the same lesson, presented in the same way.

*                Current
and Up-to-Date: Changes or updates to program content can be made in one
location and immediately communicated to any and all users worldwide.

*                Engaging
and Interactive: Depending on the nature of the coursework, teaching via
multimedia technology can be very effective.

Through animation, vivid illustration and other special
effects, program concepts can be conveyed in ways not possible in conventional
workshop settings.

In addition to self-paced courses, e-Learning also allows
for varied types of user interactions including virtual classrooms, e-mail and
voicemail interaction, chat sessions, discussion boards, online resources and
reference libraries, activities and readings.

Selecting a program

Once one has decided to invest in e-Learning, the selection
process for a program begins. Content naturally will be a driving force;
however, several other factors can prove critical to a selection. The key is to
make sure the program chosen is well-suited for its intended audience and that
the users will actually “learn” from participating in the course.

Because a computer is replacing the human contact of an
instructor, make sure the program motivates the user. This can be achieved
through unique content, surprise elements and testing adventures. Even humor
can be introduced. Along the same lines, the program should engage the user
through the opportunity for input.

Lastly, effective evaluation is pivotal to an education
program. Whether the user is asked to master each section’s content
before proceeding to a later section, successfully pass section quizzes or a
final exam, there must be some measure for evaluating the lessons learned.

In a similar vein, many courses require the user to record
performance data, which is then forwarded to the course manager automatically.
While not a necessary component of a program, this exercise often flags the
strengths and weaknesses of the program.

Only the beginning

As the water and wastewater industry increases its use of
technology to create, manage and deliver educational material in today’s
marketplace, the concept of professional development may well become a
strategic asset. In short, those who embrace education are creating a
competitive edge through learning initiatives.

The challenge in the future will not be in delivery of the
material, but in finding the appropriate balance of online education and
face-to-face/life experience education--an interdependence recognized by
all players from pump users to manufacturers to engineers, contractors,
specifiers and to anyone else who works with pumps and pumping systems. 

About the author

Valarie A. Reid manages events and education for the Hydraulic Institute, Parsippany, N.J. For more information, visit