The Best of Both Worlds
Blending online and classroom training
FIBEROPTICS BY JIM HAYES
Since 1997, the FOA has offered free
online courses at Fiber U ( www.fiberu.
org) and Cable U, which are used to help
people learn on their own about fiber
optic technology and new applications.
The FOA has a lot of experience with
online training but started with more
traditional classroom courses. Therefore, as FOA president, I can speak with
some authority on what works best. The
answer is that it depends.
Some things are hard to learn online,
such as hands-on skills. FOA online
courses use videos and so-called virtual hands-on aids to show students
the steps involved in processes such as
fiber optic cable preparation, splicing,
termination and testing. But watching
someone else go through the steps will
never come close to the real thing. Students need to handle the components,
use the equipment, and develop the
“touch” that is essential, and it helps
to have an instructor looking over their
shoulder to correct mistakes.
The FOA has been most successful
with online students who have their own
installation equipment and can follow
along with the virtual hands-on courses.
These were created by doing time-and-motion studies to break down processes,
such as termination, into very basic steps.
That works for some students.
A couple of FOA instructors are trying
to use web video connections to watch
students and help them, but it’s just not
the same. One instructor teaches web
courses and students come to a lab where
a local instructor helps with the hands-
Of course, if the class does not require
hands-on exercises, it’s possible to take
online courses very effectively. The FOA
offers online courses on fiber optic applications, such as fiber-to-the-home or
optical LANs, that an experienced fiber
tech can use to learn about new applications. The courses cover the technology,
architecture, types of components and
designs. What’s missing is specific
hands-on skills, but most applications
use installation skills that an experienced
fiber tech should know already.
The FOA is also starting to offer
online fiber optic design courses. The
“hands-on” part of the course involves
designs on paper or on the screen, so it’s
possible for students to do the labs online
and submit their work for grading. One
FOA school is already trying an online
design course for certification.
It takes a self-motivated, disciplined
person to complete online courses. Only
a small percentage of students in massive
open online courses actually finish them.
Of course, there’s no substitute for a
classroom course for skills development.
If students want to learn how to fusion-
splice fibers, polish connectors or use an
optical time-domain reflectometer, they
need to sit down with the equipment
and have an instructor show them how
it’s done and watch over their shoul-
der while they do it several times. The
problem with classroom courses is find-
ing one at the right place and time—and
sometimes at the right price.
If a person is in a time crunch and
needs to learn a new technology or application before they visit that customer to
talk about a possible job, an online course
can familiarize them with that new topic
and teach them the jargon well enough
for the meeting. However, they had
better track down the equipment and
hands-on training before trying to bluff
their way through an application! There
are plenty of stories about how bluffing
did not work out well.
The most successful courses are
called “blended learning” because they
use both online and classroom sessions.
Before coming to class, students study a
lesson online, do some homework or take
a quiz. Then they attend a class with the
appropriate background knowledge,
making it possible to do a quick review
and then spend most of the time in the
lab. FOA instructors are doing this now.
The Electrical Training ALLIANCE also
is adopting this method. It’s close to the
best of both worlds.
IN OUR TECHNOLOGICAL WORLD, we all know training is mandatory to successfully break into any new type of work. For more than 25 years, the Fiber Optics
Association (FOA) has been involved with training courses for electricians who
want to get involved in fiber optics and cabling.
HAYES is a VDV writer and educator and the president of the Fiber Optic Association. Find
him at www. JimHayes.com. B O