WxTV: Entertainment-Based Learning

Ramping up the green-collar workforce will require a new set of training methods - WxTV picks up where traditional training leaves off.

July 01, 2010
July/August 2010
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2010 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Weatherization

Weatherization training and education has traditionally been offered to contractors and crews in the classroom and lab; at on-the-job, travelling training road shows; and during conferences. All of these methods are generally effective. But when an extremely large number of workers need to be trained in a very short time, the disadvantages of these traditional methods quickly become evident. Traditional training methods are limited by the size of the classroom. They generally do not accommodate rapid-response staff turnover. Due to supply and demand, most training programs are limited to in-house and local expertise and do not have access to the limited number of weatherization and green job experts. Finally, trainings are not offered consistently throughout the United States, and the cost per participant is high.

Traditional training methods are not enough to meet the high demand for training in the emerging green workforce. With an almost instantaneous shift from weatherizing approximately 100,000 homes each year to weatherizing more than 300,000 homes per year, the estimated 133,000 workers will need to focus on production, rather than on hours spent in the classroom. Ramping up the green-collar workforce will require a new set of training methods to bring new workers on board ASAP. We need an educational model that can keep workers on the job and complement traditional training with information that will rapidly bring them up to date with new green-collar technologies, products, techniques, and ideas.


You’re Learning Without Realizing It

WxTV picks up where traditional training methods leave off. But the great thing is that you may not realize it until you reach your next job site. As you break out your tools to begin work, you suddenly feel compelled to roll out 6 feet of plastic in all directions, and you don’t even know why. It’s as if you learned how to do part of your job without being taught. . . or did you? Is it a coincidence that you just watched the WxTV episode on the fundamentals of lead-safe weatherization and the new renovation, repair, and painting rule? Perhaps it isn’t.
WxTV is a new show highlighting the latest developments in the world of weatherization. It’s like a vitamin-packed training supplement. In 45 minutes or less, the show takes you step-by-step through new rules, techniques, and products, or just about anything else that might be of interest to weatherization professionals. Guided by a weatherization trainer, the show consists of host commentary, videos, and animations that break down complex subject matter into easily digestible chunks. Experts and seasoned crews from around the country have the opportunity to participate by submitting video content, or by visiting the WxTV lab for on-screen interviews and hands-on demonstrations. This interaction gives viewers a chance to learn from veterans in the field, much like an apprenticeship. But make no mistake—WxTV is not just for beginners. There’s something for everybody, and every bit of content focuses on developing the competencies needed to improve the energy efficiency of a home safely and economically.

Ben Cichowski, a weatherization trainer and engineer, hosts the show. (Image credit: Montana Weatherization Training Center)

Experts in the field provide tips and advice. (Image credit: Montana Weatherization Training Center)

See weatherization techniques performed in the field. (Image credit: Montana Weatherization Training Center)

It’s Entertaining … and Educational

Sound dry? It’s anything but. And this is where WxTV diverges so much from traditional training techniques. You’re not sitting in an uncomfortable seat watching a PowerPoint presentation in some classroom. You may be sitting in your living room, your home office, or even a coffee shop. WxTV is based on the Web, so it is delivered at your convenience—whenever, wherever, and you can always come back for more later. It is a bit like weatherization’s version of an HGTV do-it-yourself show, entertaining and informative, and even more convenient. Little gems of information are inserted throughout each program. Experts share tips and secrets—the kind of information that you’d typically only get on the job. The experts are vetted and chosen from around the country to provide the most up-to-date information and to bring a national feeling to the broadcast.

Weatherization measures differ greatly based on local climate, and WxTV showcases those differences.

Between 30 and 40 episodes are planned for WxTV in the first year. Topics for episodes follow DOE’s core competencies for the Weatherization Assistance program. This list of competencies was created in 2007 and updated in 2009 by a group of trainers who wanted to establish and record the skills needed by each member of the weatherization team. An installer, for example, would need a different skill set than an auditor or a manager. Each episode focuses on one aspect of the core competencies, or one topic that relates directly to the competencies, and distills the most important information out of it into an enjoyable show.

Learn about technologies that make the job easier and more efficient. (Image credit: Montana Weatherization Training Center)

WxTV highlights real workers in real weatherization jobs. (Image credit: Montana Weatherization Training Center)

Active Multifaceted Learning

From a weatherization training standpoint, WxTV is going in a new direction. You may be worried that the program diverges too much from standard learning practices. There’s no set schedule; there’s no instructor to ask questions. The creators have addressed these concerns from the onset, and WxTV is certainly not passive learning. Viewers are encouraged to participate by asking questions or posting comments in the real-time blog located below each episode. Often within minutes, the WxTV staff answer questions. The anonymity of using a forum like this inspires even more questions than would typically arise in a standard classroom setting. It creates discussion rather than a simple question-and-answer session. Questions tend to snowball, and once again, viewers and blog users are learning without even realizing it. In fact, this type of critical discussion represents the pinnacle of the learning process.

Hear about new standards and practices straight from the top. (Image credit: Montana weatherization training Center)
For those of us who are currently engaged in traditional training practices: We have nothing to fear. WxTV will never replace traditional training—it was never meant to. But a booming industry must address the needs of its participants, and weatherization has needed an additional form of training that will grab and maintain the attention of weatherization professionals. Traditional training techniques are certainly important, and they are a requirement for many courses. But even if an expert with the most up-to-date and relevant information delivers a PowerPoint-driven training—even if the master of all-things-PowerPoint delivers it—it’s worthless if the students don’t pay attention. And much as we’d like to think that getting students into a classroom ensures that they will learn, that simply isn’t the case. Exposing our students to as many different forms of learning as possible is the only way to ensure that they will learn as much as possible. That’s where WxTV steps in—it supports your current training regimen. And it’s different, so you won’t have to worry about training burnout. Remember that old adage that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down? Simply put, WxTV is fun to watch. The show zeros in on an important subject and presents it in a very visual format. You learn by seeing, when you want to, at your own pace.

And the learning does not stop there. You can also follow WxTV on Facebook and Twitter. Social networking is not just for kids texting their friends. Used properly, social networking sites can significantly increase communication and sharing of weatherization techniques, material use, and training follow-up. According to a Harris Poll conducted online between March 31 and April 1, 2009, by Harris Interactive, 74% of Americans aged 18-34 (typical weatherization workforce age range) have Facebook accounts. Networks such as Twitter and Facebook have found their place in professional business and management as well. Tapping into this resource for the younger weatherization workforce is just one more way of ensuring that trainers are meeting the needs of the population we serve, linking people, ideas, and communities.


Ben R. Cichowski is the Montana Weatherization Training Center’s instructional designer and teaches various courses as well. Michael P. Vogel is a professor at Montana State University (MSU) Extension and the director of the Montana Weatherization Training Center based on the MSU campus.

WxTV is the brainchild of Mike Vogel and Ben Cichowski, who serve as the executive producer and writer/host respectively. Sitting in the director/editor’s chair is Vince Cusomato. And finally, Brad Eberspecher completes the team as the show’s production coordinator. All work originates from the Montana Weatherization Training Center in Bozeman, Montana. The Montana Weatherization Training Center is a joint effort of Montana State University Extension and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Since 1991, its mission has been to train the professionals who are on the ground weatherizing homes every day. Working closely with the Department of Energy, Montana’s Human Resource Development Councils, and tribal associates, the center focuses on safe, efficient, cutting-edge techniques to address the health, safety, and energy efficiency issues present in low-income housing. WxTV is one of nine projects funded through the National Community Action Foundation–ExxonMobil Weatherization Training Partnership, supporting advanced weatherization training models. The training models use creative curricula, innovative partnerships, and innovative technologies to train more skilled workers to meet the U.S. Administration's goal of weatherizing more homes.

For more information:

Get more information on WxTV.

If you are interested in participating in WxTV or have any suggestions for topics to cover, contact Brad Eberspecher at (406)586-0050 or by e-mail at beberspecher@montana.edu.

For all other questions regarding WxTV, contact Ben Cichowski at bcichowski@montana.edu.

Get a list of DOE’s core competencies for the Weatherization Assistance Program.

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