Online Tutorials Get Makeover

New name, different interface, and iTunes, too

7 March 2011

The Web site that houses IEEE's collection of online courses has been completely overhauled. The former IEEE Expert Now has become the IEEE eLearning Library, and it uses a new software application for delivering tutorials. The site includes more than 200 courses and webinars from universities, training organizations, and IEEE units, instead of just tutorials from IEEE workshops and conferences. And to broaden access, there is now a section for IEEE content in iTunes, in the area where universities and nonprofits can post their content for users to download for free.

"Our efforts to improve and expand the library resulted in capabilities and content that were so markedly different from IEEE Expert Now that it made sense to rename the product," says IEEE Senior Member Maja Bystrom, editor in chief of the IEEE eLearning Library and chair of its editorial board. "The new name now accurately describes what's being offered."

The library contains short, online courses in core and emerging technologies such as biometrics, digital circuit design, fiber optics, and the smart grid. Each course is developed and peer-reviewed by experts. Users can choose among introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. Courses are from one to three hours long and include downloadable notes and a searchable glossary of terms. The course notes are the transcripts of the tutorial's audio portion, and they allow students to read along while they listen—which is helpful for those whose primary language is not English.

The new software application, called a learning management system, translates the site into Farsi, Mandarin, or more than 100 other languages. The courses use multimedia elements such as animation and colorful diagrams and charts. Controls allow the student to repeat the audio portion, replay the slides, stop and later resume a tutorial, and skip ahead to another section.

There are also interactive discussion forums with instructors. And when you complete a course, you can take a test and immediately see your score. After successfully finishing a course, users can print certificates for professional development hours or continuing-education units, which IEEE issues.

"IEEE is accredited to award CEUs, something that is vital to many professional engineers," Bystrom says. "This ability is a further measure of our course quality, since we abide by international standards for continuing education."

Many courses are free, and IEEE members receive a 50 percent discount on others, which cost from US $50 to $150, depending on length. Once you sign up for a course, you have up to a year to complete it and can continue to access the content even after completion.

ADDITIONAL PROVIDERS
IEEE is expanding its collection with courses from other providers, notes Steve Welch, director of continuing education for IEEE. He is working with universities to make class materials available, as well as with training organizations such as the Microchip Design Institute for a series on designing ICs. There are also tutorials that cover IEEE's 802 suite of wireless standards and sections from the U.S. National Electrical Safety Code handbook.

The new e-learning system also gives IEEE societies, regions, and sections the ability to post their own educational content and host webinars, Welch points out. "A lot of organizational units have been struggling with how to bring such content to their members," he says. "They've been building their own platforms. But we've now built the capabilities for delivering courses to their groups that can be tailored to their needs."

The courses are aimed at IEEE members, but companies and universities can also purchase subscriptions to the IEEE eLearning Library. Options include access to all the courses, to a set of tutorials on a particular technology, or for a specific number of users.

In a classroom, the courses can supplement a lecture, help students prepare for a more advanced course, or be assigned as extra credit.

Employers can use the tutorials to update their workers' skills, provide them with insight into emerging technologies, or help them acquire the professional development hours their organizations require.

"What makes the IEEE eLearning Library different from other online tutorials is that the library contains peer-reviewed content with a focus on the practical, continuing-education needs of the engineering professional," Bystrom says. "The editorial board constantly reviews the tutorials for accuracy and timeliness."

IEEE eLearning Library courses can be accessed here.

ITUNES ACCESS
To make its education content accessible to more people, IEEE is participating in the iTunes U Beyond Campus program. In addition to tutorials, IEEE plans to offer audio and video programs, PDFs, and e-books. The site currently features 5-minute overviews of longer IEEE eLearning Library tutorials on aerospace technology, biometrics, and engineering management, as well as leadership training for IEEE volunteers.

"Our content is now discoverable by up to 100 million iTunes users," Welch says. "We're able to reach people we would not ordinarily reach."

To access the iTunes content, visit the IEEE eLearning iTunes section

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