A few months ago, NIST OWM reached out to state weights and measures directors for their input on OWM’s “informal learning resources.” Through a series of surveys, interviews, and small focus group discussions with several directors, I was able to have specific discussions to determine what the states and regions need to support the technical training and professional development of their inspectors and staff. The purpose of this article is to share some of these findings, formally thank those who provided input, and share work underway to make those resources more accessible and relevant to weights and measures programs.
What is “informal learning?”
The term “informal learning” refers to learning that occurs outside of a formal educational setting such as a classroom. As with many workplaces, this kind of learning is very common in weights and measures programs and is often used by field inspectors who are continually faced with learning how to inspect and test new types of weighing and measuring devices and address new marketplace practices. “Informal learning resources” (ILRs) are any tools such as job aids, checklists, and other information that can help you learn how to accomplish a task, improve your skills, increase your knowledge, or just make it easier to do your job.
NIST OWM produces a limited number of ILRs such as handbooks, test procedures, and guidance documents to assist weights and measures programs and industry in applying NIST standards and test procedures. Increasing the number and type of ILRs and making them more readily accessible has the potential to provide educational resources outside of formal training, facilitate “on-the-job” training, and complement formal training events offered by NIST and others in the legal metrology community. Before beginning work to update our ILRs or create new ones, OWM needed to better understand customers’ preferences and needs, and we began with state weights and measures programs.
Getting Customer Input.
Yvonne Branden (Training and Web Coordinator) and I created an electronic survey for state weights and measures program directors. I also individually interviewed eleven state directors and hosted two small focus groups with a total of eight directors from different regions of the country. The initial focus was on resources that might be particularly helpful for field inspectors, though we welcomed and received input on how our resources might be used in other areas.
Initial data collection focused on learning about the format and topic areas of ILRs of most value to state weights and measures programs, challenges of accessing ILRs from the NIST website, and how weights and measures programs are using or might use ILRs. We also invited focus group participants to share insight on how NIST and its stakeholders might collectively use such resources more effectively as part of a broader strategy for weights and measures education.
For those state program directors who participated in this data collection, please accept our sincere thanks for your time and input!
What We Learned.
Some key takeaways from our research:
The preferred format for NIST ILRs revealed Handbooks and Reference Documents and Training Videos as the most preferred format, followed closely by Field Manuals, Test Procedures, and Training Manuals.
For those interested in more information about the study and its recommendations, we plan to publish a complete summary with more details as a SP 2200 publication. Watch for a future newsletter article announcing its availability.
Our Next Steps.
We are considering the study’s recommendations to help us improve the availability and relevance of potential OWM ILRs and will implement those that provide the most customer benefit. Below are some steps already underway:
Be sure to check the OWM newsletter for periodic updates on this work. And please continue to send your feedback on any training or topic area that you may also have a particular interest.