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Wilkinson Coutts & Matthews Integrity Training


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Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning for the asset integrity industry

Training: how we see it

We saw in our earlier article Freelance employees and the gig economy, that employees in the inspection/integrity industry are increasingly responsible for their own qualifications and training. That’s good news for employers. Not surprisingly however, employees who are paying for their own training get a little more concerned about its time-effectiveness than when someone else was paying for it.

Time-effectiveness is easy to define. If you spend 20 hours on a course (classroom or online, including any travelling and downtime), but only learn and retain all the information presented for 4 hours of it and nothing for the other 16 hours, then your training effectiveness is 25%. Note it is the successful retention of information part of the equation that’s important; we can all stare blankly at a classroom lecturer or computer screen and remember next to nothing.

Most technical training consists of either residential classroom or workshop training courses, online self-learning courses or a combination of the two. Both work, in their own way, but can also result in wallet-draining low effectiveness of the learning process. Information overload, lack of interaction, poor delegate (and lecturer) motivation and days of slow-death-by-PowerPoint will be familiar to most of you.

Well, here at Matthews Integrity Hub; HEAD OFFICE we’ve been looking at a training method developed with Wilkinson Coutts Training, and we think there’s a more time-effective way of doing this. It’s called peer-to-peer learning or P2P if you like acronyms.

Peer-to-peer learning? What is it?

Think about how you learnt to speak. You didn’t watch slides or have lessons; you picked it up from a combination of all those around you; your parents and other adults (who could speak already) and your toddler-friends who were struggling to learn it, just like you were. That’s peer-to-peer (P2P) learning.

Fast-forward this to the task of learning a new language as an adult. Reading a book or watching a video will give you only the most basic start. To gain any competence at all you need heavy-duty interaction with others who already speak the language and others who are learning it. It’s this immersion in the task that enables you to learn at the most effective rate. Now for a bit of good news, you don’t have to actively make any effort to be able to learn like this; after a shade over 200,000 years of modern human development, your brain has become hard-wired to do it for you. It is how you are designed to work.

Peer to Peer Learning

Now let’s apply this to technical training

To be effectively applied to the world of technical learning, peer-to-peer (P2P) training courses have to meet a few specific criteria;

  • The end result must be hugely-increased time-effectiveness. At least a 40-50% increase. That’s the whole object of the exercise.
  • It must work for the technical scope of the subject; NDT, inspection methods, code knowledge or whatever.
  • The whole training process must be specifically set-up by the facilitators (let’s not call them lecturers) to fit the P2P learning model. The structure and course material are completely different to traditional classroom or online methods so you can’t just change the name of your existing course material and trust to luck.

How does it work in practice?

P2P works on the principle of increasing, five to ten-fold, the total number of interactive links between all the people on a training course; the delegates (6 to 10) and two facilitators. The interactions are designed in advance and structured to meet the training objectives of the course. Fig 1 shows the situation.

The basic unit of the interaction is the delegate pairing. Reciprocal learning takes place between the delegates in each pair, and between them and all the other pairs. The pairings change daily, to the overall plan set by the facilitators. Both facilitators provide technical content expertise; facilitator (1) initiates and manages the interactions in real-time, whilst facilitator (2) takes a more overall monitoring view, tailoring the daily plan as the strengths and weaknesses of the delegates reveal themselves. Here are the good points about this method:

  • It balances out the different learning rates of the delegates; always a challenge in training courses
  • It utilises the best advantages having of young and older delegates in the group
  • Delegates get more involved, and react more positively when they make mistakes.
  • It increases significantly the time-effectiveness of the whole programme. Delegates learn more, and at a much faster rate, from each other as well as the facilitators
  • There’s no dozing through PowerPoint presentations, because there aren’t any, and there’s nowhere to doze

Wilkinson Coutts

Does it work for all technical courses?

Yes, to varying degrees, it does. Its best application is in training for difficult technical examinations such API certificates, code appreciation, technical methodologies and similar. These all have the characteristics of large bodies of knowledge leading to many days, or several weeks, of training time being needed to impart a sufficient level of knowledge to pass the exam, relying on conventional online/classroom training alone. It’s in situations like this where the greatest benefits of P2P lie; in reducing the length of the course to a manageable number of days. This saves freelance and contract employees time off work, and money.

P2P works for shorter (1-2 day) lower-level ‘technical appreciation’ courses also. For this type of training the course syllabus/body of knowledge can be more flexible so the benefits are more to do with increasing the amount of information learnt in the time available rather than just saving time. It is also valuable for increasing the amount of experience transferred from older to younger delegates.

Let’s talk fact and figures

We can look at two specific examples of training courses; those with the purpose of teaching a specific technical methodology and those where the objective to train the delegates to succeed in an externally-set (hard) examination

P2P teaching a technical methodology

This is training with the specific objective of teaching people to perform a technical task that others can already do, such as doing inspections, NDT, evaluations, preparing specific documents, reports, calculations etc. The common factor is that there is a specific methodology to be followed which could, in theory, be followed by delegates working alone if they were sufficiently motivated.

A good estimate for the time-effectiveness of courses of this type using conventional methods would be about 35% for all-on-line training (people lose interest easily and rarely push themselves unaided) and 50-60% for a classroom course, limited by the time restrictions and the tenacity of the lecturers and delegates.

Using the peer-to-peer course structure for this type of training can raise the overall effectiveness ceiling of a classroom course to 80-90%, giving a reduction of an 8-day classroom course down to 6 days, with an equal or improved level of knowledge retention. To understand how it works, think of the technical methodology that is being taught (whatever it is) as being made up of many separate sequential steps, as most of them are. The small interactions between delegates discussing the steps, and how they link together, repeated multiple times, is what provides the step-change in the learning rate. Plenty of mistakes are made, and seen, around the multi-path network, so the final (correct) solution methodology is learnt more quickly and in sharper focus.

P2P Learning

P2P teaching to pass an examination

Training delegates to pass an NDT, inspection certification or similar externally-set examination also centres around a large body of knowledge selected from multiple codes or recommended practice documents (1000+pages of code material in some cases). Owing to the specific objective of passing an examination, absorbing this large body of knowledge requires persistence and tenacity from delegates. Multiple examples and repetition are the secret to success and learning exam technique is as important as the technical subject matter.

Applying P2P learning to this type of learning objective works perhaps the best of all. The key driver to the improved effectiveness is the vastly increased incidence of delegates learning from others’ mistakes, not just their own. If you quadruple the number of delegate-to-delegate interactions, within and between the delegate pairings then the learning rate rises proportionately. Learning from mistakes is the most effective way of learning anything. Not everybody will necessarily like it, but if you want training effectiveness, that’s where it lives.

Now, an invitation

Think about it. We can’t realistically write an article that extols the benefits of multiple interactions between interested learners without inviting you to, you know, interact a bit. We have experience of presenting hundreds of API, ASME, code appreciation, pressure systems and other courses to the integrity industry, in about 15 countries. We’ve seen and learned quite a bit, but not it all, so we’re always interested to hear your views, so we can learn more.

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