Solar Energy Education and Training Best Practices

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Most installers learn early that the right tool for a job makes all the difference, not only in the quality of the workmanship but also in the speed with which they can complete the job. Through experience, you may have also learned that taking shortcuts often leads to a poorly finished product and, in many cases, one that does not last long.

Needing the right tools holds true when developing sound education and training programs, too. At the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), we witnessed this with the rapid growth of the solar industry and the buzz that ensued. A Wild West for solar training programs followed, often with the promise of jobs upon completion of a 1-week crash course. Organizations and institutions set up training programs practically overnight as the solar industry clamored for workers.

In many instances, the approach to this training was inconsistent and of poor quality, leaving many students unemployable. To be fair, well-intentioned instructors established many training programs, but some of these people lacked a thorough understanding of solar technology or the solar industry. Excellent training courses were few and far between.

The Solar Instructor Training Network

Building a skilled workforce starts with offering prospective employees high-quality education and training programs, which depend on sound instruction that well-trained teachers provide. The Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) is helping to build that highly qualified solar workforce (see sitnusa.org). A 5-year US Department of Energy SunShot initiative, SITN consists of nine regional training providers and a national administrator. Now active in nearly every state, SITN at its core is a train-the-trainer program. Its projects and tools are helping trainers make significant strides to fulfill the critical need for high-quality, accessible and industry-driven education in solar system design, installation, sales and inspection.

As the SITN national administrator, IREC has worked with the network’s regional training providers and the solar industry to develop a series of tools for trainers. One of these tools, Solar Energy Education and Training Best Practices: The Series, is an online compendium of national best practices for instructors in solar training, education and workforce development. Written by leading experts in the solar industry and in education, the series is designed to give instructors the right tools for training a highly skilled and competent solar energy workforce. These in-depth resources support instructors in developing new solar programs, integrating solar content into related trades programs, and enhancing existing solar education and training programs.

Best Practices: The Series

The following is a description of the documents included in the compendium of best practices.

“Curriculum and Program Development.” This document addresses teaching and learning strategies that promote effective instruction, focusing on two primary components of instructional systems design: development and implementation. Together they address teaching and learning strategies that promote effective instruction. Anyone who wants to be a good teacher needs to understand how students learn. This document examines the information-processing theory of learning and how it impacts lesson design, and presents an eight-step lesson design plan. It also briefly discusses some adult-learning principles that instructors can incorporate into teaching strategies. In addition, it provides a few tips for designing and using Microsoft PowerPoint presentations effectively.

“Becoming an Effective Teacher.” A brief overview of the curriculum development process, this document focuses on developing a curriculum methodology and job task analysis. Its intent is to discuss the process of development rather than a specific set of courses that might constitute a particular curriculum or program.

“Developing a High-Quality Course.” The quality of currently available courses ranges from highly effective (with stated learning objectives, student participation and assessments) to poorly designed and executed (using what is often called the sit and get strategy). This document discusses how to develop a high-quality course, unit or lesson and introduces instructional models and practices that can be used for solar education and training. It includes a discussion of the broad concept of a systematic program plan and how to use instructional systems design to develop such a plan.

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