Introducing the new digital hub for training in mechanical engineering!
Digitalisation is simplifying a whole host of mechanical engineering processes – not just those involving design or in-house and external coordination, but also when it comes to training staff. The aim of the item Academy is to provide our customers and anyone interested in mechanical engineering with a pool of practical knowledge free of charge. The courses on offer range from general introductions on topics such as lean production and ESD to explanatory videos and installation guides for item products. This training portfolio for mechanical engineering gives users the opportunity to complete interactive online courses whenever and wherever they like. To mark the launch of this new, flexible training format, we interviewed Joel Hesse, the man behind the item Academy.
item is breaking new ground
What inspired item to create the item Academy for customers, partners and staff? What were the motives behind it?
There were quite a few. Over the last few years, item has grown significantly in almost every respect. We’re selling more and more products to more and more customers in more and more countries. In turn, each of these customers has a lot of employees who need to be trained on how to use our products.
At the same time, we’re experiencing fundamental changes in our customer base. Production and products are becoming increasingly digital. Microelectronics are being used more and more. The risk of hidden damage to products and machinery caused by electrostatic charges is increasing practically every year as a result of the progressive miniaturisation in this area. At the same time, more and more people are taking an interest in lean production and Karakuri solutions. The issue of ergonomics at the work bench – which was initially seen as just a cost factor – is also beginning to play a key role in companies’ ability to reduce illness-related absences and provide their staff with attractive work benches, not least as a result of an ageing workforce.
In other words – the amount and range of information our customers require to make good use of our MB Building Kit System is increasing.
Were there any special challenges when implementing this project?
Yes, there were. It was important for us to ensure our customers don’t have to set up a new account. We also wanted to make sure they only have to log in once through their browser so they can seamlessly switch between our various digital offerings. This meant we had to link the existing user database of www.item24.com with the learning management system ILIAS (which stands for “Integrated Learning, Information and Work Cooperation System” in German) and, at the same time, consider scenarios that would work in all languages and countries.
We also have to tailor the learning materials to suit the needs of particular target groups throughout the various item regions – not just in terms of the text, but also the visual design and other region-specific features.
Training in mechanical engineering both online and in person
Can anybody access the courses? Do you have to register beforehand?
Yes, the item Academy is open to everyone – for free and with no obligations. Users do need to register, but this also benefits customers, as this is the only way we can develop learning materials that are tailored to their interests. We’re constantly developing the Academy and adding additional content and interesting new functions. However, you only have to register if you haven’t already created an account at item24.com. You only need to register once to get instant access to all the online services offered by item (CAD data, online tools, Media Download Center, etc.).
Online training at the click of a mouse
Who says training can’t be fun? Expand your expertise with the interactive item Academy – from the very basics to in-depth product know-how.
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Is the item Academy seen as a companion to face-to-face training, or will it be replacing the on-site offerings?
The item Academy will be a supplement to the face-to-face training courses. Both formats have their own specific benefits. Ideally, we aim to combine the flexibility of being able to use digital content anytime, anywhere, with the advantages of practical face-to-face workshops.
This benefits our customers by reducing the amount of time they need to commit to training and eliminating a lot of the travel expenses that would otherwise normally arise. For their part, staff who then attend face-to-face training can get straight down to work with the trainer without first having to listen to all the basic theory.
The educational concept behind the item academy
How should the configuration tools be assessed in this context? Will there be guides on how to use them, too, or are they self-explanatory?
The online tools have a largely intuitive user interface and are very easy to use after a brief period of familiarisation. We are currently testing scenarios in which the tools and the Academy complement one another to benefit the customer. The item Academy can provide specific background information about products included in the online tools, while the tools themselves enable item Academy users to put what they’ve learned into practice straight away.
Who were the training courses and product guides designed for? Could you please explain the design process and the teaching approach?
The item Academy is currently based on two key formats. The online courses consolidate valuable background knowledge on a topic and are best enjoyed in the peace and quiet of the office over a cup of coffee. They’re geared not only towards specialists, such as heads of production, factory equipment engineers and design engineers, but also the fitters who actually work hands-on with our products.
The second format is my personal favourite. These are step-by-step guides that walk users through the assembly with videos, texts and animations, only ever showing the next step in the process.
Our aim is to provide workers with the know-how they need when they need it and where they need it, i.e. at the work bench. You could think of it as a kind of performance support. There are two major benefits to this. On the one hand, they don’t have to cram as much information. On the other, they can immediately combine what they’ve just learned with a hands-on experience. So, ideally, they’ll bring their tablet with them to the work bench. Of course, we know not every customer has a mobile end device and Wi-Fi at their work bench, but they can certainly bring the content of the module with them in their minds.
When I’m designing the learning materials, my goal is to make them as interactive as possible, focusing on effective knowledge transfer. The content also follows the principle that you take things on board better when you can link them with a practical activity. That’s why I do my best to avoid the typical format of very wordy PowerPoint slides followed by a quiz.
In my view, it’s much more effective to set learners tasks where they can choose how to react and, depending on their decisions, they can see the fictional consequences. The motivation to avoid an unwanted result – such as screwing in a fastener at an incorrect angle – is often greater than the desire to reach a certain goal. Admittedly, for various reasons, it’s not always possible to develop scenarios like this. They’re often more complicated to design and implement, too. That said, they’re still an ideal I think we should aim at.
Rich and varied online training in mechanical engineering
Who decides which topics are covered by each section of the online offering? Is there some kind of content plan?
Like I said, the selection of topics available is mainly tailored to suit the interests of our customers in the regions. Of course, my colleagues on the didactics team and in sales, the product group and marketing share their ideas with me, too. The final decision regarding content is made by management and myself, taking into account the suggestions from the teams I just mentioned.
Are there any plans to introduce a staff section with training offerings designed for staff?
For us, maintaining a well-trained staff is, of course, just as important as it is challenging. Naturally, our first step will be to grant all item employees access to the item Academy. We’ve created an exclusive area in the system just for this purpose. However, it goes without saying that we also have plans to continue expanding the training we offer our staff in the medium term.
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