Like many automotive trainers, John Vandenberg believes classroom instruction will probably always be the best way to deliver technical training.
“I don’t know if it’s because we like to work with our hands or we need to see the actual parts in front of us, but it seems the classroom situation works best,” says the owner of the Manitoba-based automotive training company Injectronics.
Nevertheless, Vandenberg is concerned about technicians in remote areas who face steep travel costs to keep up with the latest automotive technology.
“They need training like the rest of us, but it’s really tough for them,” he says. “As vehicles become more sophisticated, they’re going to find themselves able to do less and less. They’re going to realize that even brake work won’t be able to be done anymore.”
The solution for them, he believes, is in the Internet.
Offering training online is hardly new, but recent technology has made it easier than ever to create multi-media training courses and stream them inexpensively to participants around the world. Students no longer have to plug in expensive peripherals to participate in live discussions. And the software required to take part in webinars is free and easily downloaded.
“We’ve had people flying in from remote areas to take our classes and they all say the same thing. They don’t really need the teacher in front of them. If we can put the program onto the web, they would definitely take it,” says Vandenberg.
So he’s now offering live webinars that offer essentially the same learning experience as his hands-on training, complete with the videos that are shown live in class.
“It’s not always physically possible to have a car in the classroom, especially if you’re meeting at a hotel or something like that,” says Vandenberg. “So we prepare video clips ahead of time, showing hands-on work as we complete a repair. Anyone watching the live webinar would see the same video that’s played in class.”
Craig Van Batenburg, founder of the Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC) in Worcester, Mass., has been having similar success with webinars for four years now.
“Nothing takes the place of hands-on, but our one-hour live webinars really work for us,” he says. “We’re going to continue to do them.”
The webinars are recorded during an instructor-led class so online viewers can participate in real time and interact with students and teacher alike. The programs are then archived at the company’s website.
He’ll be the first to admit, however, that webinars are not a cure-all.
“Yes, I believe in books and webinars. But when you’re done with all of that, you want to finish your training with a hands-on class. That’s the ideal formula in my view,” says Van Batenburg.
But there are some who believe we’re still a long way away from a truly effective online learning model.
Mike Cleary, owner of Automotive Technical Support Services in Fresno, Calif., is a frequent trainer in Canada and across the United States. He covers a lot of miles to offer hands-on, in-class training.
“Guys drive considerable distance to come to my classes,” he says. “I understand it’s inconvenient to travel, and some people prefer webinars. But I’ve gotten a lot of negative feedback about Internet training.”
He says webinars are still very limited in what the student sees, and it can be difficult for them to ask questions
“That’s the feedback I’m hearing,” he says, “and it’s the reason I don’t do anything but classroom training now.”
Mark Lemay, owner of Auto Aide Technical Services in Barrie, Ont., says web training is enhanced when it is done in conjunction with live instructor-led classes.
“Is it possible to learn online? Yes,” he says. “Can you do it totally online? Absolutely not. I think online training can be a great add-on or refresher. But it cannot be the main course. There’s no substitute for having someone there, who can explain something, show it, and answer questions in ways you can understand.”
He believes the training of the future will combine live and web components to create a new way of learning and troubleshooting vehicles.
“When you have a trainer in one location telling a tech in another location what to do, I think there will be a big market for that,” he says. “I don’t think you can ever get away from the classroom entirely. But I think you’ll see classroom instruction be supplemented with online stuff. That will be powerful.”