"The habit of learning has become a compulsory part of our staff culture."
T.A. Cook has developed an instrument that helps colleagues as well as customers
to learn in a well structured way, anywhere and at any time.
by Günter Schmittberger
At the age of 62, I may not be the target audience for new media learning platforms, but I have been overwhelmingly impressed by how easy and applicable e-learning can be in professional life. The Internet offers endless possibilities but can also lead down many misdirected paths. If you do not want to participate in a formal digital learning academy, you will need a lot of patience and persistence to find the needle in the haystack – the right content and the right quality.
Simply browsing for information may be fine for private use, but for a company learning strategy, relying on a search engine or a YouTube channel is not enough. I’ve had plenty of trouble finding information I need online – and my colleagues have, too. For the last year, I have been responsible for our company’s “knowledge management.” Our competence and know-how is crucial for our clients, and even more so for our experts on-site. For me, knowledge management means transferring implicit knowledge into a tangible, explicit form. To put it more simply, this means documenting and sharing the experiences of individuals so that they can be available to everyone.
To do this, we use “flashcards,” whereby subjects are broken down into micro-learning units and different types of media are used to make courses manageable and easy to digest. A variety of interactive elements are integrated to enrich the content, make it more fun and easier to understand. Video, audio, text and images all have the potential to be included, whether embedded as external content, linked or as stand-alone elements. The flashcard program also offers the opportunity to follow the learning progress of other participants and includes an online message board for group collaboration, suggestions and support.
We then use learning maps to convey complex facts in an entertaining way. For example, a colleague may ask me, “How did you implement your reliability strategy?” or “What does maintainability mean?” To answer, we facilitate a lively, project-oriented, cross-customer-intensive exchange. However, some expert knowledge is learned implicitly, through personal experience when conducting daily business. For our team to learn these skills, we also conduct face-to-face training sessions at regular intervals. Nevertheless, using a digital learning system can fit seamlessly into the existing learning landscape to fill any knowledge gaps.
By using the framework of our employee development strategy, the flashcards help staff brush up on a topic they haven’t had the chance to learn or may have forgotten. E-learning also helps employees, customers and contractors be more independent with their studying times and location. Additionally, the digital format has the advantage of functioning on any smartphone, tablet or desktop for optimal convenience.
The flashcard system has been tested internally and is working well. It is an excellent knowledge transfer tool for our consulting projects. Currently, we use the system to train our teams, to certify contractors for specific projects and to assist in preparing and training for large-scale projects, such as turnarounds. The flashcards also have an integrated quiz function to determine the strengths and weaknesses of staff to help identify and close knowledge gaps. This way, employees can focus on subjects and sections they may need to refresh instead of taking the entire course. Learning solely from one’s own pool of experience can be limited, so supplementing with additional material is beneficial.
The course “Turnaround Risk Management” for example consists of three collections and about 25 flashcards. This course would be helpful to an employee who is interested in the topic of risk management and uses the course to prepare for a training certificate exam. It would also be helpful to another employee who is more experienced and simply wants to review the material because of a professional project. By utilizing the quiz function, the second employee would be directed only to the flashcards concerning the Bow Tie method and Monte Carlo simulation – the risk management topics most relevant to their learning needs.
The flashcard program is an important building block in our training landscape. The habit of learning has become a compulsory part of our staff culture. Our employees are required to complete learning courses on topics that are important to us from a legal or compliance point-of-view, such as data security and confidentiality. The flashcard system is an easy way to track who has participated in the course and knows the material. At the end of the compliance course, the staff must take an exam and earn 100% to receive the certificate of completion. In order to pass the rigorous test, all employees must prove that they understand the course material completely.
Turning the Tables on Learning
In addition to training our own employees, we offer a variety of public courses on maintenance and turnarounds and assist our clients implement their in-house training programs. Instead of carrying out a formal two-day risk-based scope management training course complete with a seminar leader, we are now using the “flipped classroom” concept. In this scenario, a group of twelve employees would receive the learning card collection four weeks in advance. By presenting these learning cards ahead of time, participants will be better prepared for the training and get more out of it.
Then, individual topics are introduced in a professional way and practically explained according to the specific company. When the training seminar does take place, the leader explains the subject, but the participants prepare topics on the risk-based scope management in small groups using their own companyspecific examples. Eventually, one of the seminar participants will lead the training. The effect is that the seminar leader will remain a coach but not act as the sole leader.
As a result, the participant’s experiences and examples are placed in the foreground and the impressions from the training program will be more memorable, fun and lively. With the help of the flashcard system, we have rediscovered the joy of sharing expert knowledge with our clients and we hope to continue and improve our knowledge database with every project and experience we are lucky enough to have.