ASME’s modern course design helps engineers advance in a rapidly shifting field.

Engineers Need a New Approach to Learning

Nov 27, 2019

by Arin Ceglia

The engineering work landscape is rapidly evolving.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing emerge and evolve quickly—and they touch almost every industrial sector. A fair number of today’s engineers graduate with powerful textbook knowledge of fundamentals and theory but lack the skills needed to apply that knowledge in their day-to-day work. Even experienced engineers might become siloed and not have the ability and awareness to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technical field.

These two factors have combined to create a worrisome skills gap. In manufacturing, for example, an estimated 2.4 million jobs will remain unfilled between 2018 and 2028. Deloitte estimates the cost of this economic impact to amount to $2.5 trillion.

Addressing this skills gap is critical, and it informs how those of us working in engineering learning and development (L&D) approach everything from course design to education technology.

Greater than the sum of its parts

At ASME, we have a history of delivering high-quality knowledge products: standards, conferences, journals, publications, and more. Our modern L&D approaches build on this knowledge while focusing on today’s working engineering professionals and their ability to effectively apply that knowledge in their work. We strive to bring them up to speed on key new technologies in the industry, such as additive manufacturing, robotics and more—the technology of both the present and future.

Just as engineering technology and techniques are constantly changing, so is learning science. There used to be (and perhaps still remains) a misconception that you could not replace face-to-face learning with online learning. However, cognitive scientists and instructional design experts have learned a lot about adult learning and learning modalities since the beginnings of online learning. ASME has taken that science and used it to design learning experiences that make digesting complex information simpler. We’ve also changed when and how learning occurs.

We’re starting to introduce new courses that are all designed to be portable and “stackable.” They are paced according to the student’s needs and can be consumed in varying quantities and modalities, with content and assessments that clearly indicate measurable learning progress and performance metrics. We create a realistic professional experience that leverages effective educational technology and creates value for learners and their companies.

Finding the right fit

A graduate program is one way engineers can level up with changing technologies, but not everyone has the time or the wherewithal to attend. Working professionals don’t necessarily have the luxury of leaving the workforce to go back to school or take night and weekend courses.

Another option, on-the-job training, doesn’t fully equip today’s engineering professional either, since it places the focus on trial-and-error and fast delivery at the expense of macro competencies. Competencies such as complex decision-making skills and critical thinking should be constantly honed to ensure engineers can pivot and grow their careers in a multitude of directions. While engineers might learn the basics on the job, they still risk missing the larger picture.

Finally, not all courses are equal. For example, you can’t expect busy professionals to tune in every Wednesday night for a class taught by a professor, or wait another week until the next module is unlocked. This type of model can be inflexible and unrealistic for busy working professionals. On the other hand, an entirely self-study learning path may swing too far away from ensuring experts are available for conversation, Q&A sessions, and constructive feedback.

ASME designs learning experiences and programs differently. They are blended, flexible, and learner-centric. Blended programs combine the best aspects of all modalities. For example, in self-paced courses, the learner chooses when to study a certain lesson—or the whole course in one sitting. Live courses allow the learner to come to class prepared with a certain amount of prerequisite knowledge, allowing much more interactive course experiences with both the instructor and learning peers. Finally, in hands-on courses, the learners get a lab-style learning experience. Blending learning experiences made up of different modalities assure a balance between knowledge and practical application.

ASME courses are built as part of a competency framework, or a learning architecture, which is carefully constructed to roll up to the big picture from every course. Because of this, courses also contribute to completing a stronger picture of a learner’s knowledge capabilities, indicating levels achieved in a set of core competencies, with skills sitting underneath. These competencies are about much more than just a pass or fail. Strengths and weaknesses in one competency or skill can be made visible not just to students and instructors, but also to company management. Employers can track their employees’ progress in these competencies or skills, identifying areas of progress as well as where improvement (and targeted investment) is needed.

Besides the format of delivery, having high-quality industry experts teach the courses gives learners a focus on practicality and application. Our courses are not static; they deliver takeaways or job aids engineers can implement in their own workflows. The course on design for additive manufacturing, for example, includes an Advanced Manufacturing Flight CheckTM, a tangible checklist and on-the-job aid that helps design engineers validate a design before the final build. Engineers can rely on tools like this long after the class has ended.

Offering continuous learning for your workforce

Recruiting and coaching talent are top priorities for companies as they look to plug the skills gap. On that front, ASME L&D guides companies through blended learning paths that are designed to achieve an overall goal. Research shows the more a company invests in an individual’s training, the more loyal the employee tends to be. In one survey, 94% of respondents said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career.

Flexible training is one strategy that companies can employ to prepare for volatility and uncertainty in the human resources world. ASME’s courses offer that flexibility, allowing us to nurture a lifelong learning relationship with engineers.

These days, engineers have to be lifelong learners. They can no longer afford to rest assured that their competencies are durable enough to handle the changing landscape. Emerging technologies are moving fast, and the next major breakthrough or advancement is just around the corner. Engineers have to learn how to get ahead of it, and modern L&D options must provide this vital education in a flexible fashion.