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E-learning in the Process Industries

(Oil & Gas, Chemical, Petrochemical, Power Generation,etc)

Executive Summary

The term "Process industries" encompass a variety of industries such as Oil & Gas, Chemical, Petrochemical, Specialty Chemicals, Power Generation, Pulp & Paper, Agrochemicals Dyes and Dyestuffs and so on. These industries are distinct from the "discrete parts manufacturing industries" such as automobiles, computer hardware or home appliances. Today's process industries depend heavily on employees who are trained in the right skills that they need to run the process plants and facilities. It is not for nothing that an ideal organization is also called The Learning Organization. With shortage of staff due to competitive pressures like downsizing and outsourcing, it is highly critical for any industry, to ensure that all of its employees are trained regularly. This is especially so, for businesses like the process industry who are heavily involved in engineering and technology, because of the rapid changes and advancements (and equally rapid obsolescence) in technology today. Training employees and other stakeholders in your industry, regularly, is a daunting task- if attempted to do with the traditional instructor led training.

In this White Paper, we examine the issues involved and see how e-learning can offer a better solution.

The challenge of learning in the traditional way

In current times, in the process industries, there are several problems and issues related to learning in the traditional way. By traditional way, we mean attending a live class, or training workshop, or information seminar, where the expert teacher or instructor teaches a group of learners on the subject matter.
The problems and issues include the following:

  • Not all employees can be spared for such training at the same time. (e.g. Imagine an oil refinery where everybody has to be trained, can it afford to send people, even in batches for a traditional classroom course?)
  • Costs of travel and stay, if learners are coming from different locations to study.
  • Different employees may have different levels of grasping, hence even after undergoing the same course, each learner's level of understanding will be different.
  • Pressure on the Instructor to complete the course in shortest possible time (Imagine yourself as being the Production Director of an Oil & Gas processing company-how many hours will you spare your employees for training?)
  • No scope for learners to revise the course concepts or re-take the course again and again, unless the company has a policy of regular refresher training. However, typically this is done only for essential training like mandatory safety training, fire-fighting, etc.
  • Learning is a continuous process, but instructor led training makes it a one shot event.

Let us see now how this situation can be improved.

The case for e-learning

All over the world businesses, big or small, local or global are turning to e-learning as a means of imparting effective learning. The advantages of e-learning are:

  • No need to spare all employees at the same time. The employee can choose time and place of learning.
  • It can be self paced and if need be can be run again and again till employee is confidently well versed in the subject.
  • No time constraints. Learning can be in bite sized chunks or all at once-totally as per the learner's need-rather than the instructor's comfort.
  • A large number of courses can be managed through suitable LMS (Learning Management Systems) by a very small number of training administrators. The LMS can also document and log number of courses taken, test scores, time taken, etc for each learner which can provide intelligent data for developing your employee's skills.
  • It results in measurable learning. Due to score tracking, progress tracking and time tracking, the performance of each employee undergoing the training becomes measurable. In earlier days with traditional training, this was typically not done.
  • Flexible course deployment---either through stand alone CD ROMs, Internet or a companywide Intranet. Hence no travel and stay expenses, which can be a substantial cost today.

Geography is History

An e- learning solution can be either off the shelf courses or a custom designed course or something in between.

Off the shelf courses

You can find several excellently designed off-the-shelf courses in several topic areas all over the world. These include a variety of topics like Fieldbus, HAZOP, Hazardous Area Instrumentation, Safety Instrumented Systems, Gas Monitors and Safe Chemical Warehousing, amongst others.

 Custom Designed courses

A custom designed course has to be designed keeping in mind the audience, goals of the course, time allotted to the course and testing requirements. You should ensure that a custom designed course provider can provide to you all these resources at competitive costs. Generally a custom designed course will be much more expensive than an off the shelf course.

 Customized Off the Shelf courses

In the case of some e-learning providers, it may also be possible to take one of their standard, off the shelf courses and customize it (fine tune it) to meet the special needs of your own organization. Check whether your e-learning course provider can offer this option (by the way, Abhisam Software can offer this option).

 Use the right tools

There are two ways to produce an e-learning course. One way (the older way) is make a course which is a hard-coded in software which typically runs like a movie. Once produced it is difficult (and expensive) to make changes or to upgrade a course.

The second way is to use an authoring tool for production of the course. Usage of authoring tools makes it easier to make changes and modifications in the course with the passage of time (to produce better or newer versions of same course). Ensure that your custom e-learning service provider uses the right authoring tools.

 Going beyond traditional courses-Electronic Learning Manuals   (Not just e-books!)

One should think of going beyond just traditional courses and putting all of your company's user manuals, procedures, maintenance manuals and installation guides into e-learning modules. This is especially useful for companies who sell capital equipment and need to train their customers thoroughly. Instead of supplying a staid user manual (with perhaps a three day course thrown in for good measure), it would be a better option to convert all this knowledge into an e- learning module which can then be used teach everybody who needs to know it anytime.

 Please note that we are not talking here of e-books or e-manuals, which could be just soft copies or even scanned copies of the same dull manuals! A full fledged e-learning course would have animations, simulations and interactive exercises that help the learner grasp complex subjects very easily. Note that some providers can design very good e-books (which are not just pdf files) but include rich graphics and animations too, with page turning and the ability to read on mobile devices such as Android tablets. Ask Abhisam Software for such e-book samples.

Abhisam elearning

Example 1: Say, your company makes an oil fired heater and needs to train the customers in its operation. What better way to train them, than do it through an e-learning course, which through the right combination of text matter, graphics , animation and sound can create quite a lasting impact. This kind of audio-visual training has better retention amongst plant operators than going through a dull manual, that nobody would read on their own!

Example 2: An engineering company wants to train its engineers and designers in hazardous area instrumentation, including area classification, designing intrinsically safe instrument loops and so on. Rather than sending a few of them to a training institute, it can simply download the Hazardous Area Instrumentation course and ask employees to take it. After the course the employees simply login to a web based system, take an online test and get certified. The records are available for archiving purposes to the company.

Ideally courses which are organization specific should be able to be deployed immediately in a cost effective manner. The easiest way to do this is to host the course (say a 'Sales Force training' course) on your e-learning service providers' Learning Management System (LMS) and all your salesmen (who are generally on the move) to view it through an Internet connection, in a simple browser like Internet Explorer. Thus no new software need be installed at your branch locations or on your salesmen's laptops. A browser is generally always present on any machine. It should alos be viewable via other mobile devices such as Android tablets, or Blackberry mobile phones.

Thus your course need not require any special "player", which needs to be installed on client machines.

Similarly, say you are an engineering consultancy organization with a large pool of engineers that you would like to train. Then, a course hosted on your e-learning service providers Learning Management System, can be taken by all your engineers in all your locations, on their desktops, laptops, PDAs, tablets, all over the globe , in different time zones, at their convenience. Can you compare any traditionally delivered course with this flexibility at a fraction of the cost?

 At the end of a period (say every day, week or month), your e-learning service provider can give you the details of all employee activity on the Learning Management System. This includes data like employee name, courses taken, number of hours spent on a particular course or module, scores on the test and certifications attained. All this data can be archived for furnishing to higher management, or external auditors from regulatory agencies or ISO 9002 certification auditors.

 Software as a Service (SAAS)- Cloud Based Learning

This is the new concept that is fast gaining acceptance. Previously companies used to spend a great deal of time, money, effort and staffing on building up their own proprietary Learning Management System (LMS), that used to host courses and track learner activity and performance. But why pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on such systems, when e-learning service providers can offer you the same LMS as a hosted (in other words a cloud based) service? This will completely free you from all the server and software upgrades, backups and maintenance headaches of "owning" such a system.

 You can either ask your e-learning provider to deploy the courses that you need as an individual download (that resides on your learner's PC) or to host it themselves on an LMS externally. This saves you hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs every year and lets you do your main job smoothly.

For example, Abhisam Software can offer their courses as downloads or as a SaaS, using a Cloud based system, leaving you free of any headaches. Learners can access the courses via a variety of devices such as Android tablets, Blackberry smartphones (that support Flash) in addition to the usual laptops and desktops.

Conclusion

e-learning is a technology whose time has arrived and companies, especially those in the Process Industries now have compelling reasons to adopt it, which was not the case a few years back.

If you are not considering e-learning for your organization, then you are losing an excellent opportunity to sharpen skills, increase productivity and thus increase the general skill level of your organization, at a fraction of the cost of traditional learning.

If you have any comments or questions, or you would like to know something more about how e-learning can help you train your employees better, or meet your organizational goals,  please send us an email to sales[at]abhisam.com

We will be glad to assist you!






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