Benefits of Online Courses in Process Automation

  • June 24, 2014
  • Feature

By Bill Battikha, Bergotech

There is a shortage of competent process automation professionals. This high-tech discipline is critical to the success and survival of a plant and yet it is typically learned “on the job” by many who lack proper training to make the correct decisions. We have all seen younger generations assuming responsibilities for which they are not properly trained as they take over from older experienced personnel who are retiring. Management knows that training is required to meet global competition; however, management is squeezed between operating with a skeleton staff (i.e., cannot afford sending employees away for training) and with tight budgets (i.e., cannot afford spending large amounts of money to cover employees’ course and travel expenses).

The solution adopted by many organizations is online training. Such training does not require the student to travel to a faraway class helping to minimize costs.   University-level online courses are the future trend and are becoming more available. These courses provide the advantages of online learning while ensuring the quality of education. Universities providing such online programs typically award a certificate and CEU’s to individuals who successfully complete qualifying courses.    Online process automation training programs are currently available through University of Kansas Continuing Education. The university provides a certificate after successful completion of all sessions, including quizzes and final exams. Typically each of these certificate programs consists of three modules amounting to approximately 150 classroom hours. These programs are tailored to those who want to learn in an organized fashion, in a condensed time frame and from a practical point of view. Before teaching online courses, I taught “face-to-face” for over ten years in many industrial plants, at technical organizations, and at several North American universities, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Kansas, the University of Toronto, and Dalhousie University. As our economy took a downturn, attendance at these face-to-face courses dropped drastically. To reduce students’ costs, I thought of online training. At the beginning, I was unsure about the potential success and effectiveness of on-line training. However, I quickly realized its potential. In addition to avoiding the effects of time lost away from work and cost, online training proved to be very effective and has allowed many to acquire the required knowledge while still benefiting from individual attention. As one student stated in the course evaluation; “For an online course, I am surprised at how well the instructor is able to give individual attention.” In 2009, when online training began at the University of Kansas for the “Process Instrumentation and Control” course, I had 52 students enrolled in my class. This year I have 126, 20% of whom are from outside the USA).  This is a good indication of its success, since a large number have joined this process automation course based on word-of-mouth. Online learning can replace a large number of face-to-face courses - but not all. For example, it cannot provide hands-on training for equipment maintenance. This can be provided at vendor facilities or community colleges. The typical format I use in my courses is as follows. The complete program includes three modules spread over a year. Each of the three modules takes about two months to complete and is followed by a two month break. The one-year spread avoids information overload for the students and allows them to gradually apply and practice some of the information learned. Each module includes five to six sessions and every session, scheduled once a week, includes a one-hour online evening meeting. The students are expected to read the material (typically a chapter from the reference book) prior to the online session. During the online session, I meet with the students and review the material they read, discussing it and answering questions. This format has resulted in a successful course. For further details regarding the online courses in process automation presently being offered   through the University of Kansas Continuing Education, see I teach the first two courses and another instructor teaches the third. The Result So what are the final benefits of online courses? 1- Employers have kept their employees at work, avoiding time lost for face-to-face courses, and they have saved precious funds by opting for the lower-cost online course.  Employers have also improved the knowledge level of their employees, resulting in better job performance and improved business competitiveness, both of which benefit the company’s bottom line.   2- Employees have acquired the knowledge needed for the successful implementation and operation of process automation, reducing costly errors. They have also earned a university certificate confirming their acquired knowledge and opening up possibilities for advancement as they can assume new technical responsibilities or apply for better opportunities. A final thought: If you think education is expensive – try ignorance. Author's Bio Bill is the president of Bergotech Inc. with over 35 years of engineering, management and training experience in the field of process automation. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He has created and conducted training courses for more than 15 years in the USA and Canada.  

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