To say that continuing education has changed quite a bit from the time I first entered the electrical industry, back in 1987, would be an understatement. I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and landed a job with a large investor-owned utility in Florida. After working there for a couple of years, I realized it was in my best interest to obtain an advanced engineering degree. However, to fulfill this goal, I had to overcome a huge obstacle. My home and place of employment were located hours away from the nearest brick and mortar university. At first, I couldn't figure out a way to overcome this hurdle. Luckily, a new option fell into my lap.
In 1982-83, the Florida legislature established the Florida Engineering Education Delivery System (FEEDS) to deliver graduate engineering education (primarily at the master's level) to engineers throughout the state at their place of work. After a university representative pitched the concept of correspondence courses and advanced degrees to my employer in the late '80s, my utility agreed to serve as one of the FEEDS satellite locations.
Course lectures were videotaped on-site at the respective university (in my case, it was my alma mater — the University of South Florida) and then mailed to my place of employment. My employer agreed to provide a training room, television, and VCR for myself and other students to watch the lectures. They also appointed a proctor to oversee and manage the program on-site. The proctor was in charge of managing all course paperwork and administering quizzes/tests. Although it took me a little more than three years to finish the program, I was able to obtain a master's degree in engineering management by staying late a few nights each week at my place of employment. I viewed this as a minor inconvenience for the ultimate payoff.
Today, the FEEDS program works a little bit differently than when I was a student. Course lectures are now delivered to students in one of two ways: streaming video or fully online. Lectures and handouts are accessible through course management software offered by the university, which hosts course Web sites that are completely online, based on a hybrid model, or are Web-assisted. With streaming video, students have the convenience of accessing their course anywhere and anytime — all they need is a computer and high-speed Internet connection.
The number and types of courses offered throughout the electrical industry today are staggering — and the learning styles offered are quite varied as well. From the comfort of your own office or home, you can do something as basic as learn how to install a new product properly all the way up to obtaining an advanced engineering degree. But does this type of training work well for technical subjects? Turn to page 22 and read this month's cover story, “Technical Difficulties,” and see what Staff Writer Beck Ireland learned when she interviewed a handful of industry professionals on the subject. The answers might surprise you.
There's no doubt that Internet and Web technology have revolutionized the education process. The question is, are you taking full advantage of all there is to offer on this front? If not, you're doing yourself a great disservice.