Idaho Power provides electricity to much of Idaho as well as to sections of Oregon and Nevada. Many of the company’s 1800 employees work in the field as linemen and field engineers. When any of these linemen join the Apprenticeship Program they enroll in what amounts to four and a half years of training: learning skills such as tool identification, how to interpret symbols on maps, heavy equipment operation, and other physical processes to do this work safely.
With its far-flung workforce, the Methods and Materials Department at Idaho Power decided to use a blended approach to learning. It combines individual study, classroom discussion in a group with an instructor, online testing, and then field practice and testing. In the process, the utility delivers between 300 and 400 test events per week, a demanding requirement.
When the company first began the new blended approach it started with hard-copy tests, then relied upon computerized testing from a firm whose software had multiple problems. It couldn’t handle multiple hits to the server, went down often, and wasn’t capable of sending data to Idaho Power’s Learning Management System (LMS).
Using online testing is a critical element of the company’s overall training plan. According to company training coordinator Martha Prouty, computerized testing saved an enormous amount of time versus hard copy tests. So when the previous system failed to meet expectations she sought a new vendor.
Although Idaho Power delivers an exam that at the end of the four-and-a-half-year training program, employees must complete a number of steps in between. If trainees do not complete those steps, they don’t advance in pay or job classification. It’s critical to take and pass these tests in order to advance to the final exam. At the end of the four and a half years, an apprentice must pass the final exam before they can be promoted to journeyman lineman.
Some courses, such as the eighteen-month Facility Representative Program, run throughout the year. Others, including the Lineman Apprenticeship and Journeyman On-Call Series, are delivered in eight or one-week sessions.
One of Idaho Power’s primary standards for selecting a new electronic assessment system was that it would seamlessly pass information through to the LMS Idaho Power is using. Coordinating with Claire Rodkey (LMS data custodian), Prouty found that Questionmark would do just that. Employees launch the LMS to read lesson materials online either at their desks, in a training lab, or even at home. They then take the test without moving to another piece of software. The process occurs seamlessly.
Then the LMS reports to Prouty and the learners’ leadership so they can assess whether people are taking the tests they should. She also receives information about each individual’s training history and looks for problems within tests using the Questionmark tools.
In using the program Prouty discovered other advantages of Questionmark that enabled the company to work more efficiently. The program’s ability to provide a variety of question formats offered one such benefit.
“We can have very simple Yes/No, True/False, or more complex essay style questions with animated or graphic data. That advantage was huge for us,” Prouty said. “Having all of our test questions in one database system rather than having them spread throughout different departments on different hard drives was also important.” New questions and assessments are built on a weekly basis. Existing questions are reviewed and updated continuously by multiple authors and instructors.
When asked if the end users liked using Questionmark, her answer highlighted the product’s ease of use. “The end-users don’t even know it exists.”