The goal of any automotive program is to transform students into entry level technicians, in the most efficient manner possible. Since vehicles are becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is necessary for students to learn ever greater amounts of information in less time. We know from experience that students gain skills and acquire knowledge most effectively when using a hands-on approach (as opposed to just reading or listening), but does that approach have to equate to more work for instructors?
In the past, automotive training involved more of a job-shop approach where all training was centered on actual vehicles. For the instructor, managing this approach became the # of cars times the # of students, which resulted in a greater time requirement for the instructor. Another problem stemmed from the liability concerns for both the students and the vehicle owners. These issues, and others, mandated a need to implement a different training model in order to meet the needs of students.
As part of the new training model, we must recognize that today's vehicles were not designed for educational purposes. For instance, modern vehicles tend to be smaller with less accessible components and systems. In addition, how many students can fit under the hood of a single vehicle at the same time?
Previously, it was easy to use mechanical components as teaching aids in class as they lent themselves well to visual inspection, which helped students to understand their function and operation. However, with an increasing number of electronic components being added to modern vehicles each year that approach is no longer viable. In addition, these new components require updated methodologies and tools to diagnose and repair.
For many years the military has utilized simulators and trainers, with great success, in preparing soldiers to operate and repair equipment. Many vehicle manufacturers also make use of trainers when educating technicians in their own facilities. Why then, should we not use this same approach for automotive repair training? Trainers offer repeatability of tasks, which gives every student the exact same experience, while at the same time, improving classroom management for the instructor. For example, an instructor can pre-schedule a course, or entire curriculum, without having to wait for a vehicle requiring a brake job to come into the lab. With trainers, students can first learn how a system works and then practice troubleshooting before moving on to actual vehicles. This approach emphasizes to new technicians that diagnostics are performed by thinking first, and that they must practice troubleshooting in order to develop diagnostic proficiency.
Today, automotive programs are well advised to incorporate trainers and simulators into the lab in order to shorten the diagnostic learning curve. A lab that uses trainers also requires a smaller footprint and can, as a result, accommodate more students while still enabling the instructor to focus attention where needed. Task coverage is predetermined, as part of the curriculum, which reduces the time spent on curriculum development and increases student interaction time.
Does this mean we can train without the use of actual vehicles? No. The implementation of trainers allows students to progress through a program with more actual troubleshooting time, and less time spent removing pieces that do not pertain to that specific system. For example, if a student wants to learn about a wiper washer system, they must first learn how the system operates. With all the components removed and placed on a panel, it becomes easy to see and measure an operational system. After operational understanding is accomplished, the next step would be to practice troubleshooting on the system trainer. Successfully performing troubleshooting on a trainer will be the determinant that the student is ready to work on live vehicles. At this point, the transfer of skills will have been completed; performed in a progressive and focused manner that resulted from a more efficient delivery mechanism.