NEIEP: On Choosing Open-Source eLearning Software to Train and Host 26,000 IUEC Apprentices and Mechanics
The National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP) serves the United States’ elevator union. Its mission is to improve the knowledge and skills of industry members nationwide for their professional development and for the benefit of employers.
The organization offers a four-year apprenticeship program, which is a combination of practical on-the-job learning as well as classroom work offered through NEIEP. Classwork has historically taken place in-person across union halls in the US, taught by mechanics working in the field.. In addition, it also offers a catalog of 300 online courses, including apprenticeship and license renewal courses for existing mechanics, as required by state law.
Through NEIEP’s coursework, mechanics can prove competencies and maintain their skills. eLearning is a key component of the organization’s learning offering, and having the right learning management system has been a key to its success to teach a highly complex subject matter in a highly-regulated industry.
Finding a New LMS Provider That Offers Customization, Flexibility, and Cost-Effectiveness
Years ago, NEIEP acquired proprietary software to facilitate its online learning programs. As the demand and online requirements expanded, the organization outgrew its LMS. Customizability, cost-effectiveness, reliability, and ongoing support were among its most pressing needs.
“The previous LMS company was not flexible to our needs, and to try to reach that level of a relationship was unaffordable for us. They wouldn’t customize or they just didn't really get what we were trying to do,” affirms Bill Chartier, NEIEP’s instructional designer.
Adopting open-source software and partnering with a company that understands its needs and vision was important for the organization. In 2016, NEIP adopted Open LMS, an open-source SaaS solution that could better meet its requirements, including the ability to customize the platform and receive ongoing technical support. Annually, NEIEP now facilitates training to thousands of apprentices nationwide.
From Digitized Textbooks to Highly Interactive Courses That Mirror VR
When Chartier joined NEIEP in 2014, the organization was outgrowing its existing learning management system. As the lead instructional designer, Chartier recalls inheriting a number of courses created by a ‘scrubbing program’ which essentially turned physical books into digital courses. ”eLearning was simply reading textbooks online, followed by an exam. Over the years, we have converted all of those courses into online coursework using Lectora as our authoring tool,” shares Chartier.
Due to the highly technical nature of the training required, NEIEP works with outside experts in a variety of different fields like mathematicians and high-end artists to produce courses that look like virtual reality. Learners can visualize every component of an elevator or escalator and interact with the screen, zooming in on visual components as small as a screw. Through the interactive modules, the program generates a series of faults that mechanics must learn how to fix, using the tools available and their own knowledge. This online coursework is housed in Open LMS, where a number of integrated tools interact to make it happen.
”We bring together multidisciplinary groups to build courses that plug into the LMS. It can take years to build a course, but when completed, they’re fantastic. They’re some of the most complex learning environments I’ve ever seen..,” says Chartier.
Emily Carter, Writing and Development Coordinator at NEIEP, adds: ”When you see how complex these systems are and how much work students have to do to understand them, it makes perfect sense that we would want to offer learners every option that we can in terms of learning. eLearning is part of this.”
The LMS is mostly used for follow-up work after in-classroom instruction or to administer tests. It also facilitates distance learning for students located in remote areas. For a couple of semesters during the pandemic, NEIEP had to switch its offering to online learning only. It was able to quickly pivot due to the LMS, and learning occurred online with minimal disruption despite lockdowns bringing an unprecedented class structure.
For trade workers, completing their education requirements means continuing to work in the industry, as per industry standards and regulations. For NEIEP, facilitating learning at a distance was important in order to let apprentices continue their careers.
“We’d been talking for years about offering more online classes, more self-driven classwork, and more options for students. We were able to pivot really quickly thanks to the functionality of the online classes and our great IT team, offering classes so students would meet the requirements of the registered apprenticeship program,” points out Carter.
In 2021, NEIEP took the opportunity to convert many of its in-person courses and turn them into video presentations created by faculty. Through an SSO (Single Sign-On) to the LMS, learners could easily log into the learning platform and click on links to watch training videos. The videos are run through a media server company but hosted on the LMS and “work flawlessly” according to Chartier.
Providing Ease-of-Use for Users in Trades and Receiving Ongoing Support From Open LMS
Having students and instructors from a variety of backgrounds and mostly from a highly mechanically-driven mindset means they’re not always computer-savvy. For NEIEP, it was critical they provide access to online courses that anyone could easily access and interact with.
“We do get pushback sometimes on how much we're trying to give students online, but in the end, the feedback we get is, ‘This is great to have. I'm so glad this is available to me. I didn't know how this was going to work.’ The LMS really allows us to scale to the students’ needs and create something that they can sit down in front of and use immediately,” shares Chartier.
According to Chartier, working with Open LMS has been easy and the team appreciates the support on offer, particularly that any issue that occurs within the platform is fixed within hours or days. ”I was trying to get a report and nothing was there. It was broken, it was gone, it was empty, and I was panicking. One of Open LMS’ team members helped me with researching the issue, and figured out how we broke the report. We're taking corrective measures to change the parameters of measurement so it doesn’t happen again. That’s a good example of the excellent customer support we receive.”
Adopting Open LMS also provided the reliability NEIEP sought, having experienced downtime only twice since migrating and never at peak times. The team is also excited to continue evolving its courses and using the features and tools the platform provides. The open-source nature of the technology also enables easy integration of tools, allowing NEIEP to have a robust learning ecosystem that works seamlessly.
”Reliability is key, and we have that. We also have a diverse platform. While we don't use all of the tools, the ones that we do use work and are reliable, so we are looking ahead to expand the tools that we are using,” concludes Chartier.