How has online training boosted engineering learning capabilities during the Covid-19 crisis?

It has provided an opportunity for engineers to focus certainly on the product development front through this period, and during any ‘downtime’ available it has offered the chance to broaden skills and ensure they are up to date with the newest software developments. In the simulation industry we have seen providers of software products offering online software licenses to be able to use their products from home, or free access to training services that would normally be paid for.

Do you think this has triggered a new trend post-COVID?

I think online training has definitely boomed and will continue to rise in demand. I think it represents some good opportunities for those providing training services that were previously only done face to face – they could reach a wider audience, and a lot of content that is normally delivered live can be recorded. An advantage is that we will be able to offer customers more frequent access to training in future because they are spread around the world and we can’t be with them every day even though we would like to.

I think online training offers great opportunities, not only in times of Covid-19 but also to people who can’t access formal training because of geographic, economic or other circumstances, although it is not time to write off our traditional educational pathways either.

Does it work better for certain things?

It’s ideal for software related learning – you have to be sat at a screen to use it so why not have the training delivered while you are at your screen. And if I think back to University days studying engineering, sitting in a lecture hall while someone goes through a lesson plan and worked examples in front of 100 people or more, then I don’t see why that can’t work online and probably already does. Practical work may be more of a challenge unless the recipient has access to the same equipment.

We did deliver a static simulator to a new customer during lockdown. Normally we would go out, complete the install and training staff onsite, but that couldn’t happen. We supplied detailed instructions, installation procedures and assembly drawings to allow the customer to fully build their simulator. This included a single projector, complete with overhead gantry to suit their facility, a static screen structure with vinyl covering, a PC rack and our acclaimed Hand Wheel Loading System. We supported the customer remotely to allow them to fully integrate this into their own systems.

Will some online training work better using VR?

VR will offer some advantages, for example it is particularly good for exploring 3D objects. It is good for displaying things in virtual space, such as within CAD designs or simulation scenarios. If there is more hardware distribution, low latency, and sufficient bandwidth, I can see engineers reviewing online designs using VR. It could provide a deeper understanding because we are seeing use of huge wrap around projections in most of the simulators that you can’t easily recreate in a single video screen. We also use VR in some of our simulators, but we use VR in combination with a lot of other stimuli to simulate a driving experience.

Is it feasible to translate engineering training courses into a VR-ready format?

I think it could be used for certain elements, but it needs to be used appropriately, and not for inordinately long periods.