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Lunchtime learning: spare time at work can now be used productively by logging on to the Energy University.

Workplace access to the internet has transformed most people's lunch hours. Come 1pm, many office-based employees eschew a walk in the park or any other form of outdoor activity, opting instead to eat a sandwich at their desk while idly surfing the web. For better or worse, that's just one of the ramifications of an always-connected society.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Those 60 minutes at the computer during the middle of the day can be used in a far more productive manner, thanks to a proliferation of training courses being offered through the internet.

The latest development sees electrical distribution and automation firm Schneider Electric launch a free, non-product specific, e-learning website which offers bite-size courses on energy efficiency, making it ideal for lunchtimes or other short periods in the working week. The aim of the Energy University portal is to enable busy engineers to keep up to date with all matters regarding energy consumption in buildings such as offices and data centres, along with technology trends and return-on-investment calculations so that they can implement changes at their workplace or on behalf of their clients.

"We are aiming to give engineers all the knowledge and skills they need to help them and their companies reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, says Dale Wrangle, director for industry at Schneider Electric. "The Energy University is a vendor-neutral initiative and it is freely available to everyone. It has been deliberately designed to be as flexible as possible, allowing users to start and stop courses when they want and complete them in their own time."

Once you've registered with the site, you can pick and choose from a wide range of short courses, lasting between 30 minutes and an hour. The topics are varied and include energy-efficiency fundamentals, alternative power generation technologies, energy audits and the smart grid. They are delivered in a user-friendly manner, comprising on-screen prompts overlaid with a descriptive audio file. The courses can be stopped and saved on the "my learning" page, to be completed later.

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Each course features a series of questions which have to be answered by the user to allow progression to the next stage. Once the course is finished, there is an accompanying quiz which can be used to test the knowledge gained. The course will then come up as "completed" on the user's personal homepage. A certificate of completion can also be printed off if needed.

"A further nine learning modules will be added to the site over the next few weeks" says Wrangle. "These will address important subjects such as power factor correction and harmonics and combined heat and power. And, by the end of the first quarter of 2010, an additional 12 modules on top of that will become available, covering areas such as energy-efficient fans and ventilation systems, and waste heat recovery. It is our intention to keep improving the website so that we eventually have a vast amount of useful material available on it."

The Energy University also features several white papers written by experts from Schneider. One of these looks at how intelligent energy-efficiency technologies can be used to dramatically reduce a building's energy requirements for lighting, heating and air conditioning. Another looks in more detail at active energy-efficiency technologies such as variable-speed drives for HVAC, pumps, fans and motors.

The initiative seems to have caught the imagination of industry professionals. So far, it has attracted 5,000 registered users in 115 countries who have completed more than 5,600 short courses. The users range from chief executives of big companies through to top-level managers and engineers.

The feedback that Schneider has received has been extremely encouraging, says Wrangle. "More than 90% of users who took a short course said they would take another one, he says. "And 85% of users would recommend the site to colleagues. That sort of positive feedback proves that people are finding it useful, and such peer approval is something we are delighted about."
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Title Annotation:TRAINING FOCUS
Author:Hibbert, Lee
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 10, 2010
Words:665
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