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Through a Glass Digitally: Is DVD Becoming a Driving Force in Automotive Training?

Mark Fritz

June 2000 | While DVD continues to take a backseat to the Web as a popular platform for training, it is beginning to make significant inroads into the automobile industry. One segment of that market, in particular--the auto glass industry--seems to have firmly latched onto DVD as a training vehicle. This is both surprising and not. The automobile industry, in general, is noted for its use of technology in training. Both laserdisc and CD-i, for example, were quickly embraced by Detroit's own brand of gearheads.

But in the auto glass replacement segment of the market, any formal training at all is rare, according to Tom Whitford, technical training supervisor for Performance Achievement Group (PAG) of Madison, Wisconsin. PAG is the training division of Auto Glass Specialists, Inc., an auto glass replacement company with 63 retail shops throughout the Midwest.

Whitford says that when he first got involved in the auto glass business 15 years ago, "You learned the job by watching the older guys and asking questions. The only training done was one-on-one, on-the-job, employee-to-employee." And it was all completely informal, he says. About eight years ago, his company began conducting classroom training. Recently, PAG trainers have beefed up their classroom presentations with PowerPoint. But, overall, Whitford feels that the auto glass industry still gives training short shrift.

While formal training was once a nicety, it is now a necessity, says Whitford. That's primarily because automobile designs have become so complex in recent years. Auto glass replacement is no longer a job for the backyard mechanic. Today's auto glass installers have to deal with wraparound moldings, rain detection systems, heated windshields, and air bags. Plus, in an industry where design models change every year, keeping up with the rapid pace of change is another challenge that calls for training.

THE NEW GLASS MASTER

Two years ago, Performance Achievement Group began dabbling in DVD, creating "quick and dirty linear discs used to replace VHS tapes," says Dean Mieske, formerly a trainer and project manager for PAG. Mieske now runs Performance Courseware, a Madison, Wisconsin area multimedia training production company that specializes in DVD.

"Even a non-interactive linear DVD disc offers a lot of advantages over VHS tape," says Mieske. "Its incredible portability makes it a lot easier to take a training presentation on the road. It increases the visual quality and impact of the presentation. And its random access makes the training much more accessible. Even something as simple as adding chapter points makes life much better for the trainer." Mieske says he hates VHS tape. "You get color bleed, noise, and tracking problems. And then there's all that winding and rewinding. Trying to teach with a VHS tape in a classroom is an embarrassing waste of time."

WHAT DVD BRINGS TO TRAINING

Last year, after getting some experience creating linear DVDs, Performance Achievement Group produced a full-fledged interactive DVD training application for use in auto glass installation training classes. "DVD works a heck of lot better than videotape because interactivity is the key to learning," says Mieske. "People learn by experiencing the positive and negative outcomes of appropriate skills application," he says. "The best way to learn a procedure is to do it; the second best way is to experience a simulation of that procedure. If you want somebody to learn, you need to create an artificial experience that is as close to the real thing as possible. DVD is today's best multimedia resource for doing that."

DVD provides a level of interactivity comparable to the venerable laserdisc, says Mieske. Studies in the 1980s showed that laserdisc-based training resulted in twice the competency in one-third the time, he says, and "DVD's interactivity can deliver those same results."

Besides providing superior training, DVD also makes life easier for the trainer. Tom Whitford says DVD's portability makes it easy for him to review lesson material while he's on an airplane. And its random access allows him to jump right to the module he needs to brush up on.

DVD simulations, in particular, take the load off technical trainers. "Can you imagine having to bring real cars and trucks into a classroom and get them set up every time you wanted to teach a class?" Mieske asks rhetorically.

HOW DVD FITS IN

Performance Achievement Group's "Auto Glass Replacement" training DVD disc is meant to be used by a trainer or "facilitator" within the context of a classroom training session. Typically, a PAG training facilitator travels to an auto glass replacement retail shop, taking along a two-pound Panasonic DVD-L10 or L50 PalmTheater portable DVD player, a lightweight Epson LCD projector, and a small set of Roland speakers. The DVD program creates a morning of classroom training, which is followed by hands-on training in the shop in the afternoon. In the afternoon session, trainees are supposed to demonstrate the skills they learned from the DVD in the morning. Class sizes range from 10 to 50.

At the heart of the PAG training DVD are video simulations of various auto glass installation procedures. Application designer Dean Mieske incorporated a gaming challenge into these simulations. Audience members are challenged to spot any mistakes the actor-installers make in the video footage of an installation simulation. If they think they spot the actors making a procedural mistake, they are supposed to raise their hands to signal the facilitator to stop the video. If a mistake has indeed occurred, the learners then must choose the correct installation procedure from a multiple choice list. Correct answers earn them credit points. If they stop the video action at inappropriate times, however, no multiple choice questions pop up, and the group gets points deducted from their score.

DVD TRAINING'S PROS AND CONS

PAG's Whitford believes that DVD's greatest strength as a training medium and its greatest weakness are one and the same: "Once that material is pressed onto that disc, it can't be changed." This is good, says Whitford, because it ensures that training will be consistent. In the auto glass training realm, there is a constant juggling and turnover of trainer/facilitators. DVD ensures that every trainer delivers the same consistent message. In the world of standup classroom training, changing an instructor can change the whole course, says Whitford. "But with DVD even a really bad instructor can't goof up the course." Even for good instructors, having a presentation "fixed in stone" can be helpful, says Whitford. "DVD does a good job of keeping the facilitator on track."

On the flip side, however, this shackling of the instructor is sometimes bad, says Whitford. Personally, he likes to remain flexible because he never knows what he may encounter out in the field. "You walk into a classroom and you get a sense that something needs to be a little different."

Whitford says he once walked into a body shop, for example, where no one had even an inkling about how to change a windshield. "They were way behind technically, but their pride wouldn't let them believe it. They didn't realize how much technology has advanced in the last few years, and they weren't receptive to new ideas." So while the guys were working, Whitford took a photo of them with his electronic camera and then inserted their photo into his PowerPoint presentation. Later, when he gave the presentation and they saw their own picture, "They couldn't believe it," he says. "They were blown away by the power of new digital technology, and this made them realize how quickly all technology (even automotive technology) is advancing. This sent them the message--'technologically, you're a little behind. There's more possible than what you know,' " says Whitford.

This sort of on-the-spot adapting to the learning situation is impossible with DVD, says Whitford. To compensate for this problem, he often uses both PowerPoint slides and a DVD disc simultaneously during a training session, switching back and forth between the two. He likes the way he can simply press the pause button on the DVD player and the video "stays there infinitely"--something not possible with videotape.

NOT A JACK OF ALL TRAINING

Obviously, not every training project calls for DVD, says Dean Mieske. It is often not appropriate, for example, for teaching time-sensitive material that will quickly change. Because a DVD training application requires a considerable up-front investment of time and money, you're throwing your money away unless the content has a long life expectancy. It has to remain relevant long enough to pay off your investment in it.

Consequently, many designers of technical training on DVD try to emphasize big-picture messages and lowest common denominator information, says Whitford. At PAG, the more subtle and specific things that are more subject to change are handled using either PowerPoint presentations or live classroom lectures, he says.

Whitford believes the ever-changing auto glass industry pushes the limits of this return-on-investment/life expectancy issue. Experts in his company have determined that the maximum life expectancy of their auto glass DVD projects will be about 18 months. After that period of time, it will be necessary to revise and update the material and create some new discs.

Producing a DVD training disc requires a team and a "substantial" investment, says Mieske, but it is not as outrageously expensive as rumored. "Anyone with multimedia experience can master one of the easy-to-use DVD authoring systems, so that takes the need for an expensive programmer out of the picture," he says. "And on-the-fly proofing takes away some of the testing needs." Recent plummets in hardware costs for things like hard drives and digital camcorders are also helping to put DVD production costs within the reach of average trainers. "DVD is getting easier every day," says Mieske. "It's better than laserdisc and cheaper."

DVD VS. WBT

"The Web is a very, very poor training platform," Mieske says. Bandwitdth-related delays kill the interactive learning process.
Just as the sharpest talent in multimedia commercial authoring long ago deserted optical media for the Web, Dean Mieske believes that too many people are overlooking DVD training in favor of ever-popular Web-Based Training (WBT). "The Web is a very, very poor training platform," he says. Bandwidth-related delays kill the interactive learning process. "Waiting for a graphic to re-draw creates frustration, and frustrating a learner is about the worst thing you can do," says Mieske. "Access time problems create interminable interruptions in the training process. The human brain doesn't like that. Every interruption detracts from the learning."

Plus, with WBT, you have to forego video, which is a very important tool in procedural training and a very good attention-grabbing tool in all types of training. The Web is capable of delivering still images, but still images aren't good enough, according to Mieske. "Video keeps the learner involved by providing constant stimulation. Every second that nothing happens gives the learner the opportunity to tune out, to daydream. Video grabs the learner's attention and keeps it," he says. "And you can't learn if you're not paying attention."

Despite his dislike for the Web, Miekse is looking seriously at possible DVD/Web hybrid solutions, which he thinks hold great potential. This would allow a trainer to capture student scoring data and other participant information--a capability that is sadly missing from self-contained, unconnected solutions like DVD.

DVD'S MULTIMEDIA ENTERTAINMENT FACTOR

DVD's signature strength, as anyone sold on the format for consumer entertainment purposes will tell you, is its ability to deliver dazzling sound that far exceeds anything we've encountered in comparable earlier media. And that sound, of course, is 5.1 surround or its near-mate dts. However, the PAG auto glass training application doesn't use any surround sound at all, according to Mieske. "Surround sound is a hard sell given the limited budgets of most training projects."

With his latest client, however, Mieske didn't have to do any selling; the client was adamant about using surround sound. The client is a company called International and Mieske and his Performance Courseware company are currently completing a DVD training application for them which will help train mechanics in the inspection and maintenance of heavy trucks.

International wants to use DVD's multimedia capabilities (including surround sound) to their fullest because they want the disc to make an impact, says Mieske. International wants this DVD project to be impressive. "They want it to enhance the overall image of their training efforts," he says. And they want it to be exciting.

"International wants to use surround sound to keep people involved. And they want to use it throughout, not just in the intro," says Mieske. In contrast, many DVD projects ration out their audio, saving it for the intros, outros, and transitions. In fact, some projects use surround sound only in the opening attract loop or in "marketing-oriented" introductory modules. International, however, wants "spots of sound at a dozen points throughout the disc," says Mieske. "They want to use it to keep people awake."

The ability to create excitement is a DVD feature that trainers shouldn't overlook, says Mieske. "People learn more if they are motivated, and excitement gets people motivated and involved."

Tom Whitford agrees. "Music draws people in," he says. Of course, audio can be distracting he points out; therefore, the designer has to use sound judiciously. But, in general, he says, "Any type of entertainment you can add to training will help."

LESSONS LEARNED

While working on the PAG Auto Glass Replacement disc, Mieske says he learned a lot of lessons that will make him a better DVD producer in the future. But the biggest lesson he learned was this: "You can't possibly do too much testing and proofing."

A user of Sonic Solutions' DVD Creator authoring system, Mieske praises the product's built-in proofing tools. "Sonic Creator has tools that allow you to alpha test before you even create a disc image," says Mieske. "You can proof your work at various stages in the production process. With laserdisc, you had to press a one-off before you could test; it was last-minute wait-and-see." Yet despite good tools and best intentions, Mieske encountered programming errors in the PAG disc that Sonic's proofing software didn't catch. There's just no substitute for having a human being sit down and go through the disc to check it, says Mieske.

PAG's Tom Whitford thinks the biggest lesson he's learned about DVD production is the importance of design pre-planning. "You need to determine precise outcomes before you go to pressing, and you need to make sure those outcomes are built in. You really have to look hard into the future."


Companies Mentioned in This Article

Performance Achievement Group, Inc.
1200 John Q. Hammons Drive, Suite 200, Madison, WI 53725-9500; 800/355-4881; Fax 608/827-2619; info@pagtraining.com; http://www.performanceachievement.com

Performance Courseware
317-1/2 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 283, Edgerton, WI 53534; 608/884-6118; Fax 608/884-6978; dmmieske@aol.com

Sonic Solutions, Inc.
101 Roseland Way, Suite 110, Novato, CA 94945; 415/893-8000; Fax 415/893-8008; info@sonic.com; http://www.sonic.com


Mark Fritz (makfritz@aol.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is a consultant and freelance writer based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

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