From the classroom to the computer screen, NDT training options continue to grow.

Charles Hellier appears in the NDT Classroom videos in the Full Circle Studios. Source: NDT Classroom

New guidelines recommended by the American Society for Nondestructive Testing are expanding the traditional training offered by the NDT industry. While training will never become entirely mobile, tablet computers and PCs can supplement the classroom environment. Video-based instruction can allow students to learn at their own pace, but they still won’t replace practical, hands-on training. Experts explain the benefits and limitations of online training.

Charles Hellier appears in the NDT Classroom videos in the Full Circle Studios. Source: NDT Classroom

Training Hits the Screen

Whenever possible, getting training on-site, rather than in a hotel room, can be beneficial. But, for all of the touted benefits of classroom learning, there are some drawbacks, points out Charles Hellier, principal at The Summit Group. Though Hellier does like teaching, and says a high-quality classroom environment can help students learn, he does have some issues with many in-person training sessions. In many cases, the classroom time seems to be frittered away on lunches, breaks and half-day Fridays, to the point where an advertised 40-hour course might be little more than half that time of actual instruction.

Still, it’s how instruction takes place in the vast majority of schools: a teacher in front of a room full of students, explaining a lesson and answering questions. And in many NDT training programs, this is how it’s done. Instructors can deliver training on-site at a company’s location, which may be convenient for students, but also disruptive since they are close to their normal daily activities. Sending students away to a training course could be more expensive with the transportation, hotel and meal costs, but this allows them to be in an environment focused on learning.

But classrooms are not the only way to learn, as demonstrated by the many YouTube videos explaining everything from how to wrap a sari, make sushi or use Skype.

The American Society for Nondestructive Testing’s (ASNT) recommended practices recently went through some changes. Before 2011, ASNT’s Personnel Qualification and Certification in Nondestructive Testing Recommended Practice SNT-TC-1A called for training to be done in a closed environment. But with the 2011 changes, online training or self-study suddenly became a possibility. Charles Hellier decided to start an online video training program, called NDT Classroom. “It’s an expensive venture, but we believe that it’s one of the foremost ways people will be trained in the future,” Hellier says.

Here’s how it works. Students sign up for a class, complete the online training and take a final exam. Once they pass this, they qualify to take practical, hands-on training, which can be done through their company or with an outside instructor. Right now there are seven modules available, with more in the works.

The online training courses, launched this April, are not meant to eliminate hands-on training, but rather, to provide a blended approach. With the video lessons, they could squeeze in some instructional time at the end of the day, or whenever they have some downtime. A tablet version is also in the works, but that doesn’t mean that mobile phones are the next step. Since the NDT field is so visual, it’s important to see what’s going on. “I don’t want to teach someone radiography on a phone,” Jeremy Furlani of NDT Classroom says. “Even if the image is crystal clear, it’s just too small.” The goal is to make the lessons accessible, but without diluting their effectiveness. By requiring at least a tablet computer, the company can make sure that students absorb the lesson instead of just squinting into a small screen on their phone.

In addition to the ASNT changes, technology also affected the NDT training business. The key influence was not NDT technology, but the Internet. With connection speeds improving in the last few years, videos won’t be interrupted by buffering or other issues. And with hours and hours of video, students needed to be able to watch the footage without interruption or problems in downloading.

NDT Classroom shot some of the videos at Quality Testing Services Inc. (Maryland Heights, MO), where Justin Lehmann is the director of training and consulting. Lehmann teaches at the company facility, off-site at other company’s locations, and online. Lehmann demonstrated some techniques for the NDT classroom video segments taped earlier this year, and said the taping was similar to any of his classroom sessions, the main difference being that video allowed for multiple takes.

The Future of Face Time

But not everyone supports the push toward online training. Tim Roach, a Corporate NDT Level III at Accu-Test Labs (Houston, TX), says online training could be a mistake, and taking away an instructor in the classroom with decades of experience could hurt students. But despite his critique of online training, he recognizes that even in-person learning is not foolproof. Roach says that students coming out of training schools often seem to lack skills, with some schools shortchanging students. “They are literally treating it as a certification mill, instead of trying to teach a craft. It’s like trying to teach someone how to cook instead of putting them in the kitchen,” Roach says. “There’s a lot to our craft other than theory.”

In his classes, he tries to relate to things that students understand, whether by using comparisons or current events. He compares light and sound waves to the flowing of a river, and mentions real-life scenarios or oilfield disasters that crop up in the news, for example. Once students hear about something making headlines, they tune in and are more likely to learn, or at the very least, stay awake.

But regardless of the training format, the content is still important. Roach would like more emphasis on applications, not just theory. Though some people may say that on-the-job experience takes care of this, he’d like to see students better prepared for how to handle different applications in the industry.

Michael Allgaier is the director of training and certification of the Mistras Group (Princeton Junction, NJ) and also served on the ASNT SNT-TC-1A review committee. He says that the world moves fast and trends in training can be hard to predict-”Five years ago I didn’t know how to tweet,” Allgaier points out-but says if there is a way to reduce costs, the industry will likely chose that option.

Allgaier learned the training fundamentals after spending 12 years with a nuclear power accredited training program. He says that there are four steps in transferring skills: First, show someone a performance of the test. Second, show the same thing, but slow down and explain each step. Third, let the student do the test, but with help. Finally, the student does the test on their own and you evaluate how well they do. He asks, “If you watch a video of how to perform a test, isn’t that just step one?”

However, he notes that web-based training can save time, and allows for the Level III’s, who may be in short supply, to reach more people.