Tip #281: Improving Energy Education

Many people may not realize that I have more than 12 years of experience designing specialized energy educational programs and training the trainers who provide energy education on a local, regional and national level. So, before I get on my soapbox, let me offer the credentials that support my opinion on the problems with energy education. In collaboration with technical experts, I designed the curriculum, created the trainer manuals, and trained the trainers for the highly acclaimed National Compressed Air Challenge, the Wisconsin Energy Star Homes Program, and Focus on Energy. These programs include: Compressed Air Challenge Fundamentals and Compressed Air Challenge Advanced Training, Ventilation Basics, Drainage Basics, Practical Energy Management, Integrating High Performance, and the eight-day Wisconsin Energy Star Homes Training Consultant training. According to Marge Anderson, Associate Director of the Energy Center of Wisconsin, my curriculum design and master training skills helped the Energy Center of Wisconsin win the 1998 and 2002 Awards of Excellence in Education from the American Institute of Architects, as well as the 2000 Exemplar Award from the International Association of Continuing Education and Training.

The fact that the National Compressed Air Challenge is one of the highest rated training programs for the U.S. Department of Energy has also been attributed to my curriculum design and train-the trainer expertise. For years, I have designed and delivered the two-day Technical Trainers Toolbox for Focus on Energy. I worked with Productive Energy Solutions to design the Fan System Assessment Training and the Fan System Qualified Specialist training programs for the U.S. Department of Energy. Over the past two years, I worked with Southern California Edison to provide train-the-trainer programs and to audit and recommend revisions to their key training programs to incorporate adult learning principles to ensure a quality learning experience for their customers. More recently, I have worked with Productive Energy Solutions to design an Energy Awareness Program for Arcelor Mittal, Steel: An Energy-Intensive Business for Purdue University, and Pump System Energy Efficiency and Fan System Energy Efficiency programs for Portland General Electric. In the past month, I designed and delivered a two-day program on Training Analysis and Design for Midwest ISO (the folks who manage the electric grid!) in Minneapolis and Presentation and Facilitation Techniques for Pump Systems Matter in Chicago.

However, until a representative of Midwest ISO contacted me and pointed it out, I did not realize that I have a niche in technical energy training design. As a result, I feel that I have a responsibility and an obligation to make the following observations: Most technical training programs about energy-efficient practices are based on an ineffective and outdated training paradigm. They waste valuable time and resources promoting the lecturer’s expertise rather than developing the participants’ capability. What happens when technical energy experts get in front of their audience? Do the participants:

(a) learn a lot and leave confident in their own competence?
(b) enjoy the stories and consider it good entertainment?
(c) leave in awe of the expert’s knowledge and skill?

The answer is probably not (a). Unless technical energy experts understand and incorporate adult learning principles sufficiently to set their participants up for successful learning, the training simply wastes everyone’s precious time and limited funds. Given the importance of energy conservation, how can we justify that? Customers and consumers need specific technical skills to effectively implement energy-efficient practices. Don’t we want them to get those skills and leave the training programs confident that they can capably use those skills? Unfortunately, despite many years of research into how the brain works and how people learn, most technical training only uses lecture. So, what’s wrong with lecture? It depends on what the desired outcome is. If the desired outcome is an awareness of and exposure to new knowledge, lecture will achieve that goal. However, why not simply post this information on a website and save everyone the time and expense of attending a workshop? For any agency committed to promoting energy-efficient practices, the desired outcome is either new skills or a change in attitude or behavior. In these cases, different instructional methods other than lecture will be necessary. The energy industry needs well-designed training programs that will accomplish their ultimate intent: to motivate and empower consumers to make energy-efficient changes. There are also sound business reasons to change the design and delivery of energy training programs. First, most energy programs are designed without an educational component, so they are destined to fail. Instead of gaining consumer buy-in so that they are motivated to make energy-conscious decisions, the energy industry offers rebates or incentives. When the rebates or incentives go away, the energy-conscious decisions stop. True energy-conscious behavioral change requires energy training programs that incorporate learning activities that generate participant buy-in. Second, reliance on an expert lecturer hampers the ability of energy training organizations to effectively respond to the increased interest in energy efficiency. It makes better business sense to offer training that is no longer dependent on the expert’s limited time and availability. Energy training programs should be designed with content drawn from the expert’s expertise and learning activities that build consumer buy-in and expertise. This way, the same training can be delivered by a number of skilled trainers, which will enable energy training organizations to achieve much deeper penetration into the market. I will get off of my soapbox now, but I warn you that I am on a mission! I am writing my very first book to help energy-training organizations know how and why to redesign their training so that learning and real energy-conscious behavioral change will occur. I would appreciate any suggestions you are willing to provide regarding:

what to title this book so that it draws the energy industry’s attention;

compelling reasons why energy-training organizations might want to buy this book;

what content to include;

the best way to structure the book so it will be most useful; and

how to effectively reach this audience.
(If it’s not too pretentious to say), the planet and I both thank you!

Next week, we will begin a discussion about ridiculous training fee negotiations.


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