woman using laptop for online courseThe realistic, flexible, and self-driven nature of online training options makes them an excellent way to take your career to the next level. Kristen Ferguson, IREC’s Director of Training and Development, specializes in course design and creating effective training for adult learners. In today’s blog post she explores what to look for when selecting clean energy online courses.


We can all agree that there has not been a lot of good news in 2020. But one ray of hope is the success of good online learning. In a time when people find themselves with more time at home and less disposable income, online courses fill a need for cost effective professional development. 

For the past several years more than 6 million students have enrolled in some form of distance learning. Nearly all corporations are incorporating online learning into their employee training. Online learning works well because it does not require contact, it is cost effective, it fits easily into a person’s schedule, and it can be repeated to reinforce skills and knowledge. 

In our clean energy industry, workers are taking advantage of time out of the field to hone skills and prepare for career advancement. In this article, we explore what effective online training looks like so you can find training that meets your needs and advances your clean energy skills and career prospects. 

What Does Good Online Training Look Like?

Perhaps you have sampled online courses in recent months. Hopefully you have been impressed, perhaps even pleasantly surprised with the quality. Gone are the days of passively watching a webinar while you multitask! 

Good eLearning engages you in a way that makes time fly. More importantly, when you complete the course, you have learned something new that you can immediately apply to the job. 

Additionally, good eLearning should:

  • Replicate the job
  • Provide learner choice
  • Present challenges, choices, consequences, and feedback 
A screenshot from a weatherization training, showing how the house functions as a system.
In this e-learning example from a weatherization training, the learner selects different parts of the house to see how they interact with each other. 

Scenario-Based Learning

We adult learners thrive on problem-based learning. Immerse us in an authentic scenario that simulates the job, and we rise to the challenge: actively seeking new information. What we practice, we transfer to the job. 

A key format for scenario-based learning starts with a challenge—something the learner is likely to face on the job. Once presented with the challenge, the learner must select from several realistic choices; each choice has a consequence. The learner should be able to access information that will help them make the right decision.

screenshot from a weatherization course that asks learning how to respond to a real-world situation
An example of scenario-based learning in training for Weatherization Assistance Program staff, designed by IREC.

The final important step of learning is the feedback that the learner receives. Faced with a real-life situation, the learner must make decisions as they would on the job and face the consequences. The feedback helps them process the new information and prepares them to apply their new knowledge when faced with a new situation on the job.

Opportunities for Personalized Learning

In addition to immersing learners in real-world scenarios, online training is also effective because it offers adult learners control over their own learning. The learner can see the elements of the course at a glance or a series of modules. They select the ones that are relevant to them and in the order that makes sense to them. 

Many online courses are offered in manageable segments of fifteen minutes or sometimes shorter, “micro learning” modules. The ability to choose their own learning path plus maximize their learning in a concentrated amount of time greatly appeals to adult learners. 

Adults who try online courses aren’t the only ones seeing the merits of flexible eLearning. Increasingly, employers are also seeing the value of training and taking advantage of the modular nature of online courses so workers can fit training into the work week.

A screenshot from a weatherization training that asks the learner to apply new knowledge to assess energy burden.
Because online training is organized into smaller segments, it can be effectively completed at times that work for you. It is also easier to incorporate into on-the-job training.

Great Examples of E-Learning in Weatherization and Clean Energy

So where can you find examples of great eLearning? 

In the weatherization world alone there are quite a few. IREC recently completed the development of a series of online modules for the U.S. Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program. Twenty-nine concise modules offer administrative staff a chance to practice and sharpen their skills. Participants have described the modules as “engaging, interactive, informative, short and precise, easy to use, self-paced, realistic, relevant, very detailed, and very clear.”

Santa Fe Community College, a leader in innovative teaching with technology, developed online workplace safety courses in response to the COVID crisis. These self-paced programs are helping weatherization workers learn protocols that will keep them safe on the job when they return to work. 

Additionally, the Vermont Weatherization Program, part of the Office of Economic Opportunity, fortified its workers while they were on leave in the spring. Working with Global Learning Partners, they developed a text-based learning program that workers accessed on their phones. 

In the world of renewable energy, code officials and firefighters have consistently praised IREC’s online training for its realism and relevance. 

What Online Training Should You Take?

If you’re considering eLearning options to bolster your clean energy knowledge and open new opportunities, look for online training that offers scenario-based learning where you can practice skills that you would do on the job. 

As you consider what skills to invest in to get into the clean energy industry or advance to the next stage of your career, check out the available interactive career maps. The maps include detailed descriptions of dozens of clean energy jobs plus the recommended training and certification.

If there is a silver lining to the rough year we have all had, it is that we have been driven to be more innovative, more responsive, and more streamlined in our approach to learning. Now is the time to enroll in an online training course and advance—or start—your clean energy career!