Department of Energy Creates Online-Learning Platform for Technical Training

Image from NTER Learning

Washington—The U.S. Department of Energy today unveiled a new open-source online-learning platform designed to facilitate technical training.

The platform, called the National Training and Education Resource, or NTER, is already being used at Duke University Medical School and 17 Illinois community colleges, said John Shockley, senior project manager at SRI International, the company that developed the platform. Developers are also collaborating with the University of Missouri at Columbia, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Rio Salado College.

The new resource is a Web-based system that can be used to build virtual 3-D models for architecture, engineering, and medical students.

Mr. Shockley said that there are now about 1,000 users. Some are from community colleges in the Illinois Green Economy Network, said Terri Berryman, grant director for the network. In 2011 the Department of Labor awarded the network a $19-million grant to create 193 courses using the new platform by 2014, as part of 33 new degree and certificate online-hybrid programs.

“We’re using NTER as a tool for a variety of reasons,” Ms. Berryman said at a news conference. “Most technical training is very equipment-dependent on things like heating and air conditioning, and the equipment is very expensive and gets out of date quickly. Here, there’s a great deal of flexibility, and the 3-D capabilities are amazing.”

Michelle Fox, chief strategist for work force and education at the Department of Energy’s office of energy efficiency and renewable energy, said that the new platform’s open-source and interactive nature will help train a qualified work force for future energy jobs.

“There is a need for us to advance quickly on the way we’re training and educating,” Ms. Fox said. “We need to incorporate advanced learning techniques and take advantage of online learning without it just being groan-worthy PowerPoints.”

Ronald King, past president of the National Insulation Association, added that NTER’s features could fill a void in college engineering training.

“When I ask engineers, ‘In a four-year college, how many hours did you spend on thermal dynamics and thermal insulation?,’ the biggest answer is ‘one hour,’” Mr. King said. “There’s so many jobs here, but it’s the forgotten area. This e-learning series, the NTER program, is the focal point of being able to address that opportunity.”

SRI will continue to develop the platform. Planned features include an e-commerce option and support for use on smartphones.

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