“The next killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail look like a rounding error.”

John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Corporation

When I was in graduate school in the late 1980s, I got a computer equipped with a 40 MB hard drive. This seemed so excessive at the time. How in the world would I ever use that much storage? Today, I routinely create consulting reports that are larger than 40 MB! At 40 (soon to be 41) years of age, I grew up during the era when computers were appearing on the market. I remember when handheld calculators hit the market place. I remember when Pong was an exciting video game that captured a player’s attention for hours. (For those of you too young to remember Pong, you will get a big laugh if you ever see it.) In undergraduate school, most of my computing was done on mainframes, at least until the personal computer (PC) labs came into existence. Wow, have things changed! I, like many of you, have transitioned from observer and casual computer user to a complete dependent; a computer failure renders me essentially ineffective. And I seem to have my computer with me wherever I go. What a transition, most of which has occurred over the past 10 years!

Technology in the form of e-mail, mobile phones, pagers and the Internet has materially altered the way we communicate, obtain information, and in many cases, conduct personal and professional business. So how will technology alter our behavior and lifestyle next? According to John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Corporation, along with a host of other experts and pundits, Internet-based education is the next step on the horizon. We’ve already seen colleges and universities leverage the Internet to enable people to take classes and even earn degrees completely online. Internet-based education and training is also beginning to make its way to the world of industrial machinery lubrication.

So what is Internet-based training all about? Well, there are several variations. In some cases, conventional training and education are facilitated by Internet-based access to learning tools and information. In other cases, the Internet, often combined with telephones, connects geographically distanced people who receive audio and visual education from a live instructor (facilitated Internet-based training). In still other cases, the training is entirely self-directed. The student proceeds through the material at a time and at a pace suitable to his or her own needs and schedule (self-directed Internet-based training). Both facilitated and self-directed approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. And each has a place in the future of Internet-based education and training.

Today’s reliability-oriented maintenance programs demand skilled lubrication and oil analysis technicians. Gone are the days where a casual, catch-as-catch-can approach to lubrication will cut the mustard. Today, lubrication tasks must be carried out with precision, consistency, efficiency and continuity. Top-shelf lubrication and oil analysis skills are required to operate at the level demanded by the modern reliability engineers and managers, who have their eye on turning maintenance costs into reliability-based profits. Internet-based lubrication training may have arrived just in the nick of time. Following are some reasons why Internet-based lubrication training will play a major role in your organization’s future.

Schedule Flexibility
Most of the industries in which I consult and train have undergone cutbacks, rightsizing or some other form of reorganization that spreads work around to fewer people. Everyone is pressed for time. It is often complicated or impossible to remove an individual, and particularly a group of people, from the work schedule for several days in a row to attend a public or private training course. Online training can be scheduled one to two hours at a time over a period of days, weeks or even months. In some ways, the student learns more this way - avoiding information overload because the training or education is stretched out over time.

Just-Enough, Just-In-Time Training
Imagine a world where a work order is generated that instructs a lube tech to complete a task or group of tasks. The lube tech knows that if he or she has never performed the tasks, has not performed the task in a long time, or simply wants to review the requirements of the task, he or she needs only to link to a detailed written procedure that explicitly defines the specific task. The procedure could include the number of ounces, grams or shots of grease to apply to a particular component, detailed application instructions, etc. If the job is still unclear, he or she needs only to click again to view a task-based online training module that quickly and efficiently trains the tech just-in-time. The lube tech receives precisely the training, without the conveyance of peripheral or unnecessary information.

More People Get the Knowledge They Need
In many cases, training about machinery lubrication, contamination control and oil analysis is limited to lube techs, lube analysts, engineers and a few interested managers. However, awareness training would benefit craftspeople, operators, supervisors and foremen. Due to the inefficiency of live training, usually they simply don’t get trained. Internet-based training makes it feasible to train everybody in the organization as much as or little as their job dictates.

Efficient Refreshers
Knowledge gets stale over time. “Use it or lose it” is a quote we’ve heard all of our lives. Online training, when it is structured in a modular fashion, provides the lube tech with a convenient and efficient way to refresh his or her knowledge on demand by focusing on the modular topic of concern. Why go through an entire oil analysis course for a second or third time when you really require a refresher only on sampling? It just makes sense.

Cost Effectiveness
A major component of training cost is travel and living expenses. For private courses, the instructor must travel to the venue and stay in a hotel. For a public course, the attendees and the instructor are both required to travel to and stay at the venue. Internet-based training eliminates these costs. While new costs are incurred to facilitate connections, they are minor by comparison.

Clearly, the advantages of Internet-based training are significant. There are some obvious drawbacks, however. First, the student loses some interaction with his or her instructor. Just as I (and many others) had to adapt to computers that forever altered the manner in which we work and communicate, students of the future will adapt to the loss of interaction associated with Internet-based training. They will compensate by participating in electronic chat rooms, or by communicating via e-mail or over the phone. Second, attending a live training class enables the student to network with his or her peers. Networking and sharing information is important. It enables people to learn by open-ended discussion and by comparison to others.

Increasing use of Internet-based training will increase the importance of technical conferences (like Lubrication Excellence 2004), which are designed to facilitate networking and to provide delegates with a global view of what is happening in the industry. And for people who work in plants, mines and mills, getting out to a public seminar is often much-needed relief from the day-to-day pressures of the workplace. It recharges his batteries and reinvigorates a person’s spirit when he knows the company believes enough in him to send him to a training seminar. Losing a few of the advantages of live training may simply be a reality of the efficiency-driven industrial world of the present and future.

There is clearly a place for live, Internet-based and other forms of machinery lubrication and oil analysis training in the market place. Most companies cite lack of training as a major impediment to their success. It is unlikely that live training alone will fill this gap … Internet-based training can. We have to give it a try, tweak it and get accustomed to it, because without it, it is unlikely we will have the skills to meet the challenges of the future. This is my Viewpoint. As always, I am interested in yours.