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e-Learning: Biggest professional development opportunity for Engineering, Construction and Project Management (ECPM) professionals ever

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With the ever increasing need to excel, companies around the globe are focusing on continued improvement their business and operation processes. To be competitive in the industry, both individuals and the corporations must be innovative. Innovation not only does provide a competitive edge to the organization, but also helps to retain employees and provide a sustainable future. For organizations, one of the ways to be innovative is by continuous skill improvement of their workforce. Professionals in any industry, including construction, must focus upon their professional development. For professionals, continued professional development provides better employment opportunities, higher salaries and creativity in their lives.

Several industries have been continuously improving on their knowledge capital, finding innovative ideas, and finding better ways to serve their customers and thereby, moving towards a sustainable future. Construction industry on the other side is slower than their peers to capitalize on continued development of their workforce and knowledge management. However, this is because of the inherent nature of the industry. We have project-based companies in the construction industry, which means that our professionals are scattered geographically. In the construction industry, we have very high degree of variability in terms of academic background and mental capacity. We have relatively higher working hours. In larger part of the world, the construction industry is still an unorganized industry. This is a challenge both to companies and individuals when it comes to training and development.

Despite all the intricacies and complications, training and development is not new to our industry. Companies have been conducting internal training programs, sending their executives and professionals to academic and professional institutions classrooms for training However, in spite of all the efforts, construction industry and the professional are very short of the level of training they need. Conventional classroom-based training have failed to fulfil the professional development requirements of the construction industry worldwide. The reasons have been obvious. The spectrum of professional involving construction industry is very broad. It is not possible for organisations to develop and deliver training to each spectrum of profession. For example, a project controls professional would require a different sort of training than a resident engineer would be. Developing several curriculum developing and delivering courses in the classroom for a few numbers of professionals shall lead to such training uneconomical.

Classroom training often are difficult to schedule because of individual schedule of the learners. This means that the same course has to be repeated for several times, which requires dedicated internal or external faculty. Additionally, peer-review and collaborative training are generally not possible in the classroom settings. In other words, at a time, one trainer shall train learners based on his knowledge and experience in the subject area, and multiple trainers cannot share their experience and knowledge to students in a single classroom session.

e-Learning may be an answer to some learning and training issues in the construction industry. e-Learning is a loosely defined term which denotes various internet based application and multimedia technologies used for training and learning purposes. In other terms, e-learning is the computer and internet enabled transfer of skills and knowledge. e-Learning has several advantages over conventional classroom-based training. The most important e-learning advantages are that the training sessions can be recorded and viewed later. This provides flexibility to the learner to take training at his own convenience. If for any reason, the learner is not able to understand the lesson at the first attempt, he can rewind and watch again. Internet based e-learning also allows for great flexibility to the learner to take courses anywhere. The learner is not required to go to classroom and be away from work. He can take the courses, lectures or lessons at his workplace, irrespective of his geographical proximity to the training institute as long as he or she has an internet connection.

Couple of years ago a U.S. based think tank SRI International conducted research for US Department of Education. The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military. The study found that online education is more effective than that of classrooms. A brief summary on the study was published in New York Times blog and can be read here. In another study, in September 2010, the Department of Education, US issued a detailed report that conducts a meta-analysis of 45 published studies that compare online and face-to-face learning. This analysis demonstrates very convincingly that online learning methods are, on average, at least as effective as face-to-face learning.

I am also freelance trainer based in U.A.E. I provide project management trainings. I started to provide classroom training a year ago. After some time when I started online lecture development and shared with some of my class students, their feedback astonished me. More than half of my students appreciated my online lectures more than that what I taught them in the class. They told me that I was more understandable in the recorded lecture than that I gave in the classroom. Online training was convenient. All students had to come on a particular time in their weekend to take the course. Total travelling was taking from, one hour to up to 5 hours. Even, one of my students was taking flight to come from remote oil exploration islands to take my lectures. It was not only the travel and the travel cost saving my students liked the most about e-learning. There was another important aspect. Student understood the e-learning content better through recorded lectures. They could watch the same content several times and increase the level of their comprehension.

e-Learning opens doors to several opportunities for the construction industry in the area of training and development. The cost of training can be substantially reduced by reducing the cost of travel, absentees from the work, cost of rentals associated with classroom space and other administrative charges. Cost is only one of the aspects. When a training session is recorded, we can insure that the lecture is of the best possible quality in terms of content, interactivity and delivery method. Additionally, the training sessions can be recorded once and distributed for viewing to several learners at different times, therefore, reducing the additional cost of having a full-time trainer or hiring same trainer several times.
 
e-Learning has been identified as one of the emerging technologies for future. With cheap high internet bandwidth availability, audio video-based learning content are viewed worldwide. This enables the learner to take multimedia-based e-learning lessons from any part of the world, irrespective of his geographical location. Advent of cloud computing has helped growth of e-learning substantially. This makes the availability of cheaper data processing and hosting capacity. e-Learning content can now be delivered to students at relatively cheaper and reliable ways than they could have been a couple of years before. With several audio-visual technology, mobile devices and social networking innovations in the pipeline, e-learning technologies show huge potential of improvements. Such technologies shall also help learners in the construction industry.
 
e-Learning technology is, therefore, the biggest opportunity for construction professionals to achieve their professional development goals. While more and more e-learning technological innovations are impending, future of e-learning is brighter than ever, so is the learning opportunities for construction professionals. While face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced by the virtual interaction; however, there are a lot of benefits that e-learning technology can provide.
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