Training: It’s Not Just for Classrooms Anymore


Today’s online solutions not only provide training on demand, in many cases they also deliver information in ways that is more beneficial to the technician in the field.

For all of its obvious faults, the worldwide Interweb is proving to be a pretty useful tool, especially if you are involved with the operation and maintenance of aircraft and helicopters.

Instead of waiting weeks to get the latest inspection and maintenance updates from the factory, that critical information is literally available to you at the touch of a key. And while having access to all this virtual information is a wonderful tool in itself, the real value is that it enables a technician to find the precise information they need when they need it.

Say, for example, you wanted to give your technicians a refresher on the importance of proper tire inspection and maintenance to aircraft safety. You could just have them reread the information available in a technical manual (yawn!), or you could go to: and have them take an online refresher training course.

The key thing to remember, especially when dealing with younger technicians, is when it comes to information retention and value; successful online training is not so much based on what the information is, but rather how that information is delivered. And the delivery vehicle of choice today, and in the future, is online and on-demand.

“What we have seen is that the new-generation of aviation maintenance technicians we are training today have grown up differently than the technicians that were trained 10- or 20-years ago,” explained Josie Sutcliff, V.P. Marketing for (3D solutions training provider), NGRAIN ( “These new technician didn’t grow up in their garages turning wrenches, they were playing video games on computers.”

Too true. The way today’s ‘twenty-something’ technician learns is light years removed from the way we all learned in the “dark” (pre-Interweb and iPad) days. Their attention spans aren’t long if they’re not visually and informationally stimulated. And few things are less stimulating than hour upon hour of PowerPoint slides and diagrams on how a particular inspection is preformed.

“When we look at how traditional maintenance training has been done, it’s usually in several phases,” Ms. Sutcliff said. “Theoretical instruction in the classroom – chalk and talk, if you will – instructor lead instruction on concepts and theories. Then the student progresses on to the procedural steps where they get their hands-on training on how to do the mechanical task.”

“Our big picture vision is about transforming the way people share knowledge and where that applies at the aviation maintenance level is we are doing this by making it easier, faster and better for organizations to create interactive, 3D, virtual maintenance training solutions.” she said. “It’s really much more intuitive for the students.”

That was then. This is now…

What NGRAIN has done is to essentially provide a technology that allows theory and practice to be delivered simultaneously. “So the gap that used to exist between learning the theory and putting that theory into practice is now removed,” Ms. Sutcliff said. “For example, they can do a system orientation using 3D models, parts overviews, fluid and flow training – that sort of thing. The students will actually see how it all works together.”

Just try doing that effectively with PowerPoint slides.

“Using our 3D capabilities, we are adapting today’s training to meet the needs of these types of learners,” she said. “Our’s is a more technology-based solution that allows knowledge to be communicated in a more visual and interactive way.”

Ms. Sutcliff explained that research has shown that if you read something you are going to understand it at one level. If you watch someone do it you will understand and retain the information at a higher degree. But, if you are able to do it yourself you will learn how it is done in a faster and more thorough way.

“Using an NGRAIN solution, a technician can actually, virtually interact with the 3D model of the aircraft,” Ms. Sutcliff stated. “They can actually perform many procedures in real-time right on the 3D model. The total effect is a more intuitive and immersive learning experience than the traditional training model.”

Ms. Sutcliff also shared that in addition to being able to see and do the actual work – virtually, of course – the system will automatically give the student feedback on what they are doing correctly and incorrectly. There is no one to judge your abilities or lack thereof.

And as we all know from first hand experience, there’s nothing more demeaning than having to stop the instructor – again – to ask for them to go back over a point that you just aren’t getting. With the 3D simulations, students can go back and try it again until they are comfortable to move on. No one is looking over his or her shoulder.

Ms. Sutcliff stressed that the ability to repeat a lesson at the user’s convenience is a critical element in improving the effectiveness of any online training program. According to NGRAIN studies whether integrated into Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETMs), Distributed Learning courseware to supplement standard work cards or as tools to provide maintenance task reviews, the company’s 3D-based software and solutions are proven to improve first-time fix rates by upwards of 25 percent.

Right time training at real-world costs.

As the world’s business and commercial aircraft continues to grow and spread into new regions, so does the need for aircraft airframe and engine manufacturers to provide up-to-date training to technicians who may be literally on the other side of the world.

“It [online training] minimizes the impact on revenue generating tasks,” stated Michele Asmar, director, Learning Innovation and Solutions Design, CAE ( “Training can be done at convenient times for the student and impacts less on their work schedule. No travel is required, which reduces costs as the online model is accessible anywhere in the world and therefore it becomes much less time consuming.”

“Large and small MROs are increasingly suffering from shortages of experienced technicians and attending a class on or close by their facility offers them more scheduling flexibility – less downtime for travel – in addition to major travel and lodging cost savings,” she added. “This opens the door to an increased use of E-learning and distance learning in the near future.”

“People are less and less able to be in one location for training so being able to provide quality training anytime while leveraging the new mobile devices is a growing trend,” Ms. Sutcliff said. “It’s a capability we don’t see a clear end to. The industry is trying all kinds of options now.”

One operator in particular that Ms. Sutcliff highlighted who is taking advantage of the online training model is the U.S. Army’s helicopter operations at Fort Rucker. “They have been using NGRAIN for many years now. In particular, they use our 3D Knowledge Object – our interactive 3D format that lets them produce animations to integrate into their courseware,” she said. “They have achieved a really impressive ROI compared to the way they did specific training in the past.”

Ms. Sutcliff said that the team had been relying on a limited number of hardware-based panel trainers. The units were very expensive to maintain and were becoming prone to breakdowns, which caused repeated scheduling problems especially when technicians had to travel to the training facility.

“That was the reason they decided to try the interactive 3D training solution,” she said. “They were able to make the training available online and on-demand. They haven’t looked back.”

Online training’s ever broadening appeal.

Of course the benefits of online training programs extend well beyond the scope of maintenance training. Pretty much anything that requires a classroom can be supplemented, if not outright replaced by a well-produced online solution.

And for aviation technicians working in this rapidly expanding global industry, the benefits on online training are extending into the necessary “soft skills” as well.

For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently announced that it has entered into an agreement with Rosetta Stone (, providers of technology-based language learning solutions to provide second language training to IATA member airline employees.

According to a recent release, the program will be based on Rosetta Stone’s TOTALe PRO solution, which combines mobile applications with live online tutoring and group-based interactive learning games encompassing over 20 languages.

“If ever there was a truly global industry, aviation is it,” stated Judy Verses, president, Global Institutions at Rosetta Stone stated in the release. “Being able to communicate across boarders and cultures is a vital skill for global organizations, and we’re delighted that IATA – which represents airlines all over the world—has chosen Rosetta Stone as its go-to language-learning solution.”

In the same announcement release, Ismail Albaidhani, Head of Global Partnership & Learning Innovation and interim head of ITDI stated, “Airlines and supply companies serving the global aviation industry may operate in dozens of different countries. Language and communications skills are critical. This partnership with Rosetta Stone will enable us to better serve the education and training needs of the industry.”

Speaking of the added value of online training to non-English speaking technicians, Ms. Asmar pointed out that CAE is seeing a trend for maintenance trainees in emergent countries to spend more time studying a particular aircraft’s systems online before traveling to attend a type-specific maintenance course.

“More particularly [our] Chinese clients, who also have an additional challenge with their level of understanding in English make sure they are better prepared before attending the class,” she said. “More E-learning as part of their pre-study material is very beneficial.”

Ms. Asmar also stated that along with using the online tools to prep for type school, CAE is seeing significant growth in general refresher topics like batteries, hazardous material handling and other non-aircraft specific training. “Aircraft walk arounds and virtual tours are also ideal for our E-learning,” she said.

As you may expect, while the attraction of online learning is universal, the technology not without its challenges. “Regulatory restraints remain the biggest roadblock, especially in Europe where online delivery of specific type training is not authorize under EASA rules,” Ms. Asmar said. “However, Swiss, Austrian and German EASA authorities have provided guidance to the Part-147 A/C Maintenance Training Organizations that up to 30-percent of an AC Type course can be done through e-learning.”

As for the FAA’s stand on online/E-learning they are “looking into it.” “We are addressing recommendations from the Part-147 Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee that addresses distance learning,” an FAA spokesperson said.

The future is online…

So whether you need to brush up on the latest procedures for troubleshooting a bulky braking system or want to learn conversational Arabic to land your dream MRO job in Dubai, you are probably going to spend most of your educational time with a laptop or iPad.

“Just-in-time training will become increasingly popular for operations,” Ms. Asmar stated. “Training provided during [actual] operations is much more effective, leading to immediate application of the learning, faster learning and a higher mastery, and finally, faster resolution of problems on the line.”

“There has been a lot of buy-in and a lot of proof that you can meet, if not exceed, the training requirements using an interactive 3D solution versus the ‘cold hands, warm feel’ type of training,” Ms. Sutcliff said. “It’s the growing trend and one we don’t see an end to any time soon.
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