The Labor Studies Program at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis is interested in designing online training programs which help dislocated manufacturing workers reintegrate into the workforce. Education and training for dislocated rural manufacturing workers presents barriers for those workers who live in geographic isolation such as distance, cost, and transportation to institutions of higher learning, unfamilarity with face-to-face or virtual classrooms because of the length of time away from school, family responsibilities, and other obligations. These barriers present challenges for many of these workers who wish to obtain skills and credentials in order to reintegrate into the workforce. Online course delivery is one viable option which allows workers in rural areas to access institutions of higher learning and receive the much needed training and skills’ upgrades necessary to compete in today’s competitive job market. This paper focuses on the benefits of the online delivery of soft skills in an Advanced Manufacturing Training Track designed to train and retrain workers dislocated from the manufacturing job market through plant closings or downsizings. An exploration of the challenges and rewards dislocated workers encounter when accessing such a program reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the accessibility of the program for rural workers, the absorption of knowledge dislocated workers learn from the training, and the application of the program when workers actually apply their new credentials in the job market.
Using the Index of Relative Rurality to define a population of rural workers, this paper explores rural workers in Economic Growth Region 9, the most rural region in Indiana, and their access to, knowledge gained, and application of earned credentials from an Advanced Manufacturing Training Program (AMTP). Dislocated manufacturing workers in the 10 county region which comprise Economic Growth Region 9 attended the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence located in Columbus, Indiana. The state-of-the-art Center provides facilities and equipment to support onsite and virtual workforce preparation and skills training for manufacturing and related industries. The AMTP is a hybrid program including onsite and virtual training. The creation of online learning modules housing soft skills content (critical thinking, problem-solving, writing, team development, and conflict resolution) embedded in an AMTP increases the efficiencies in training programs necessary to upgrade workers' skills through decreased training costs, increased access to training, and decreased need for onsite space, material, and personnel.
The success of any educational endeavor is measured by the ability of students to “know.” Knowing means using information students already have in their knowledge arsenal through education or life experience, introducing new knowledge or ways of doing things, and mediating already existing knowledge with the new knowledge to “come to know” something new or new knowledge. This learned-centered approach to learning allows students to become active agents in their own learning process and shifts the onus of learning from the teacher as an all-knowing being who imparts wisdom and pours knowledge into the student as vessel through his or her expert lecturing to the student as the mediator of his or her own learning through self-reflection, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Cradler, McNabb, Freeman, and Burchett (2002) posit “research findings are consistent in finding a positive impact on achievement in content area courses, higher order thinking and problem-solving, and workforce preparation” (p. 2).This approach to teaching involves the student as an active participant in the learning process and moves the instructor into a facilitator role charged with presenting the information in a manner or style best suited to optimize student learning outcomes. This “adult friendly” curriculum of the online Advanced Manufacturing Training Program soft skills training strengthens students’ abilities in critical thinking, problem solving, team development, and writing for twenty-first century manufacturing jobs which require upgraded hands-on skills as well as dependability and conscientiousness which can yield significant returns for a firm over the long term (Hannum, 2007). The results are generalizable to other rural distance education programs whose population fits the rurality scale. The measurement of the AMTP's success is the number of dislocated rural workers who reintegrate into the workforce after successfully completeing their certifications.
Access: The access to these online programs is only limited by the availabilty of broadband in rural areas. As more rural areas come "online" the accces to these programs increases. This potentially means all dislocated rural workers could invest in retraining opportunities through AMTP online courses.
Learning Effectiveness: “Research to date has shown that students who learn through technology, including distance education, typically have learning outcomes at least as good as students who learn through face-to-face instruction” (Hannum, 2007) while other research suggests the technology itself doesn’t produce the learning gains, but the pedagogy produces the learning gains (Clark, 2003).
Faculty Satisfaction: Faculty who share a research interest in dislocated workers and their economic environment and are involved with learner-centered pedagogies in online teaching and learning are more engaged with developing course content for soft skills as well as eventually developing virtural learning modules for real-time interactive simulations for AMTP.
Student Satisfaction: Student satisfaction increases as students become more familiar with and better able to navigate the online environment and begin seeing results from online learning in the form of grades and instructor-mediated support. The ultimate student satisfaction though is delayed gratification as a result of reintegrating into the workforce with a increased earning power.
Scale: The potential scale of online components within an AMTP is only limited by students' accessability because of geographic location. The validity of AMTP is measured by the number of students who successfully reintegrate into the workforce. The theory of human capital suggests increased educational investments, such as AMTP, pay dividends in the form of increased earnings throughout the life of the educational recipient, so the potential earnings of workers completing AMTP is commensurate with the training they receive.
Online access is required for student partcipation, so computers and Internet access is required. Students must be enrolled in an AMTP to access content.
Estimated costs for production of online content are embedded in faculty salaries.
Estimated costs for students are tuition for the AMTP as well as fees associated with an Internet Service Provider. All materials neccessary for course completion are included in tuition.
Clark, R. E. (2003). Research on web-based insturction: A half-full glass. In R. Bruning, Horn, C., & Pytlikzillig, L. (Ed.), Web-based learning: What do we know: Where do we go? (pp. 1-22). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishers.
Cradler, J., McNabb, M., Freeman, M., & Burchett, R. (2002). How does technology influence student learning? Learning and Leading with Technology, 29(8), 46-50.
Hannum, W.H., Irvin, M.J., Banks, J.B., & Garmer, T.W. (2007). Distance education use in rural schools. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 24(3).