Instructional videos are one part of the training picture

Installers and managers of premises and campuswide cabling systems are busy. The industry is growing, and many installers spend long hours keeping up with their workloads. Often, these workloads put installers in a catch-22 situation with respect to training. Because they are so busy with work, installers cannot afford to take time away from the jobsite for training. Yet in many cases, the training is essential to continued development and success on the job.

Dec 1st, 1997
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Patrick McLaughlin

Installers and managers of premises and campuswide cabling systems are busy. The industry is growing, and many installers spend long hours keeping up with their workloads. Often, these workloads put installers in a catch-22 situation with respect to training. Because they are so busy with work, installers cannot afford to take time away from the jobsite for training. Yet in many cases, the training is essential to continued development and success on the job.

Some have turned to instructional videos as a potential solution to this problem. Users can view the videos at their convenience, rather than being forced to conform to a classroom-training schedule. And with videos, a job foreman can gather a crew together for a single showing, relaying necessary information to all workers at one time.

But are videos an appropriate substitute for comprehensive classroom training? According to the producers of some training videos, the answer is no. They believe that videos are one piece of an integrated training program. "Videos can enhance and complement existing training," says Larry Johnson, president of The Light Brigade Inc., which conducts fiber-optic classroom training and produces videos that deal specifically with fiber optics. "They don`t necessarily take the place of training, but they definitely complement it."

Johnson maintains that videos are often crucial to a training program`s success. "Videos can show things, especially graphically, that can`t be shown in a classroom. For instance, it`s pretty difficult to show in a class how light works--especially infrared light, which can`t be seen. So the use of a video allows us to take the student places that we normally wouldn`t be able to." He stresses that through videos, trainers have the opportunity to both impart knowledge and teach skills. To that end, his firm produces two series of videos: a how-to series that teaches skills, and a technology series that imparts knowledge.

Jeff Smith, a network technician with Sunglo Telecom Inc. (Upland, CA), agrees that videos often achieve what a lecture cannot. "Training videos live up to the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words," he says. "Seeing something done is a lot more beneficial than having it explained to you. Even though there`s nothing like on-the-job experience, videos can be real helpful."

According to Jim Hayes, president of Fotec Inc., which produces training videos, provides classroom-based training, and manufactures fiber-optic test equipment, training videos have a niche market that is a result of learning theory. He explains, "Seminars work for some people, particularly those who are comfortable in a classroom setting. Self-study methods generally work for self-motivated individuals, and those who are not as comfortable in a classroom setting. Videos work well when there`s a hands-on process that must be learned."

Reinforcing learned material

Videos may also assist in an element of learning that Hayes and Johnson agree is crucial: reinforcement. "People learn through reinforcement," Hayes says. "And that comes in the form of homework and studying. A lot of times, when someone is at a multiple-day seminar, they`ll spend eight hours in the seminar, then go out all night. That doesn`t provide reinforcement. Some do fine in this environment, but for most, a seminar of more than a couple days is inefficient." He adds that when seminars last for several days, attendees generally retain 60% to 70% of the first day`s material, but the percentage declines substantially with each successive day.

Johnson explains how he integrates reinforcement with his videos. "We supply quizzes with our videos. In a training environment, if someone knows there`s going to be a quiz after the video, they`re going to be a lot more attentive."

He says that the video he has produced on lasers, light-emitting diodes, and detectors, used in The Light Brigade`s design course, is intense for many technicians, and he has found success in giving the quiz before the video is shown. "They mark down the answers during the video," he says, "because it`s pretty far out of the norm from what most technicians deal with regularly. We want to reinforce the message, so we review it after the video, covering the key topics."

Keeping information updated

Ensuring that training videos meet users` needs is also a necessity. Experienced installers and technicians undergo training to find out what is new in the industry. Accordingly, all facets of training--including videos--must remain current. "If you`re committed to training, you don`t sit still," says Hayes.

"We update our videos every two to three years," says Johnson, "because new products and new techniques come out. Also, as graphics capabilities advance, we can show things better on video using those enhanced graphics."

Hayes also points out, however, that some videos that are 8 to 10 years old aren`t necessarily outdated. "The basics don`t change much," he says. "So videos covering the basics can still be worthwhile several years after they`re first released." He says this differs from other learning aids, such as books, that cover more than just basics. "I was at a trade show recently where four booksellers were showcasing fiber-optics books. Of all those I looked at, not one had been published within the last five years. There was no mention of fiber amplifiers, wdm [wavelength-division multiplexing], or Fibre Channel in any of them, and very little mention of fddi [Fiber Distributed Data Interface]. Books can be horribly outdated."

Product-specific tapes

Many of the videos available today are produced by manufacturers and feature only the manufacturer`s products. From several perspectives, the quality of these videos varies. "Some are sales pitches--plain and simple," Smith says. "The manufacturers are trying to get you to buy a product. However, I manage to pick up some good information from just about every video I see."

"Some product-specific videos are very good," says Johnson, "and some are not. Generally, these types of videos fall into one of two categories; they are either sales-related or technical." He cites a video that The Light Brigade produced for a fiber-optic tool manufacturer, explaining that it is an example of how a video can benefit both the manufacturer and the consumer. "It describes a tool that`s sold in Australia. The technical-support cost of a call from Australia would be so high, the manufacturer needed a training video on how to use the tool properly. So the video wasn`t meant as a sales tool; it was meant as a technical-support product."

He adds that the quality of the videos themselves can also vary widely. "If you set up a camcorder that shows somebody working with a product and talking about how great the product is, that gets relatively boring after a while. The question is: Is it professionally done? Some are done very cheaply, and they come across that way. However, even some of those can provide value, as long as they`re to the point and specific. But overall, I`m not a fan of camcorders. They don`t reproduce well, and don`t show necessary detail."

Hayes expects that training videos will continue to be the learning tool of choice for many installers and technicians. He points out that many people feel comfortable with videos, probably as a natural extension of our culture`s comfort with television.

For a list of manufacturers and their products, see Product Update table, page 22.

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The Light Brigade`s series of eight how-to videos covers topics including splicing and cleaving optical fibers, performing acceptance tests, and performing optical-loss testing.

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Thirteen technology-based videos from The Light Brigade cover topics such as fiber-optic safety, plastic optical fiber, and fiber-optic system design.

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