The Evolution of Learning

Everyone at the PCA is buzzing this week as we launch our NEW online training initiative which has been conceived and delivered in an incredibly short time frame, spanning not one but two National lockdowns! This important course sold-out within a few days of being launched and is now being delivered to the first cohort of students.

Consisting of a mix of pre-recorded and fully interactive ‘live’ sessions the course has been created using professional learning software similar to that used by Universities.  This means we can give all our students the best possible learning experience including Q&A tutorials, a peer-peer chat room and document library. Our experienced team of trainers have all contributed course content – even the PCA’s CEO, Research Scientist & Technical Managers Steve Hodgson, Paula Lopez-Arce, James Berry and I have ‘chipped in’. We’ve also called-on specialist expertise from some of our members too!

This made me muse a little about how things have changed during my working life; the way we deliver training and what impact this has on training outcomes.

Acetate sheets were ‘high tech’ – once!

40 years ago I was a Ph.D. student and was asked to prepare some lectures for botany undergraduates. This is a passage of rites for all research students; most supervisors like to give their post-grads some teaching experience especially around their research subject (mine was plant gas exchange). I diligently did my preparation and delivered a few lectures using state-of-the-art presentation technology – acetate sheets and an overhead projector!

This allowed me to do all sorts of clever animations using several sheets laid over each other. It was ‘high tech’ compared with the blackboard/whiteboard alternatives much loved by my lecturers only a few years earlier. I still have those sheets today (I know, sad isn’t it). Few if any notes or summary sheets were handed out (by me at least) so the students had to take notes or have very good memories.

One computer between us all

Spin it forward 10 years; now I’m working in industry; only one computer in the whole building and that belongs to the Technical Director’s secretary and uses 3.5” ‘floppy disks’ for memory! Now I’m presenting using slides and a projector.

An improvement in many ways; the equipment is slightly less bulky but creating the slides is not easy – it involves getting photos on slide film mounted in frames and any graphics (sometimes created using Rotring pens, Dymo labels and transparencies) need to be done right at the start of the project and also transferred to film – no last minute editing here! I still have those slides (see above). Summary notes were handed out together with printed literature but the latter involved a laborious production process – woe betide anyone who missed a typo in a 5000-copy print run datasheet!

The fear of ‘Death by Powerpoint’

And then, the new millennium. It was on to chunky computers on everyone’s desk. Early versions of Microsoft Office gave access to what seemed like a quantum leap in creative options (if you were computer-savvy of course) and it wasn’t long before the classic phrase ‘Death by Powerpoint’ was coined. I still have those early presentations on a memory stick in my draw somewhere (see above)! Mobile phones were still mostly Nokia/Motorola and text-only but now we can send digital versions of documents desk-to-desk via email (yay).

The last decade has seen us get to the point where, through the wonder of fast broadband, we can stream presentations (including video) directly and remotely to laptops/tablets or iPhones and, if my sons VR headset is anything to go by, 3D ‘fully immersive’ experiences are coming next!

A ‘thirst’ for knowledge has never declined

And this, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to the point of this ramble through my professional experiences as a teacher. No matter what has happened to the technology, the fundamental ‘thirst’ for knowledge imparted by experienced practitioners with good communication skills, has never declined and probably never will.

We have to be flexible in terms of delivery to ensure we stay relevant to the needs and expectations of our students but, at core, the product stays the same – London cabbies call it ‘the knowledge’ – a combination of information and experience which enables old lags like me (and all the PCA’s Tutors) to continue to pass-on skills to the next generation of ambitious professionals in the construction industry.

Taking great strides with our NEW online training

I have to say getting to where we are today (from a standing start in October) with hundreds of hours of lectures recorded and hundreds more to be delivered remotely but in real time (maintaining the interactive element so essential for effective training) has sometimes felt like a roller-coaster ride but like all good construction projects, it was messy at times but the final result is looking rather good!

By ‘messy’ I mean we all had to learn new skills and lots of sessions were only ‘in the can’ after several takes.  But its satisfying to see a big project come to fruition – it was a massive team effort and although the trainers get all the screen time, it couldn’t have happened without the fantastic effort and skill of our ‘behind-the-scenes’ team of Andy Ferguson and Jade Stocker.  The concept of remote learning seems to be popular with our members, with demand for the course high – a second group is starting in February and is already fully subscribed!

I’m hoping we will complete many more short and long modules and keep delivering the content you need. Perhaps when the vaccine programme is complete we will find the classroom experience will still be popular and ‘in demand’ but ask yourself this, who do you know that’s still using acetates and an overhead projector?

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