A classroom in your pocket

If the popularity of language learning apps indicates the future success of mobile on-the-go learning, today’s classroom might be onto something.

Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Today’s Class builds on similar foundations to apps like Duolingo and Khan Academy by offering abbreviated educational lessons that can be taken while you brew a coffee maker.

The company, which has been around for 20 years and under the leadership of Dave Boyes, President, and Ron Shanas, a 40-year automotive industry veteran, began like most educational programs, with training led by a instructor. In 2019, Today’s Class launched its digital product and aimed to help train automotive technicians while providing technical training to high schools, career centers and technical colleges.

The app, available for Apple and Android, also has a web interface. It aims to help auto technicians increase their efficiency in a time frame that suits their schedule and keeps them engaged on a daily basis. Once inside the app, this artificial intelligence detects what the user knows, what they don’t know, and areas where the user’s confidence in particular topics needs to be improved. Store owners can also recommend modules where they see weaknesses in their employees.

“The idea is that every day someone can learn something new; someone can learn something that they need help with… So from a store owner’s perspective, you probably have an idea of ​​what areas your A or B technicians or service advisors need to be trained in, given the type of work you have done.The system can combine these elements (your priority areas with what you know and what you don’t know) to make sure he pushes you to train that’s relevant to you,” Boyes says.

This daily learning format, as Boyes and Shanas discovered, was the breakthrough store owners needed to crack the code by providing a method of continuous training for their technicians and service advisors without tying up their personal time with long online training. For a shop owner like Tom Sumwalt of Tom’s Auto Center in McFarland, Wisconsin, this app was a golden opportunity to give his technicians an easy way to continue their training while shaking the learning gap caused by COVID. Using the app, his technicians were able to train at their own pace directly from their phones, creating a convenient solution.

“What made me want to come check it out was the idea that I struggled, especially during COVID, because my techs weren’t interested in Zoom classes or, you know, [training] through a computer. They had a really hard time sitting at home for four hours and then getting the technical information that way,” says Sumwalt, who discovered Today’s Class while flipping through an industry magazine.

“It kept them engaged without, you know, the, ‘No, I didn’t take that class because I didn’t have four last night; the kids are crying’ you know what I mean? This kind of story.

Not only do techs learn in small, digestible chunks, but as Shanas points out, this short, focused learning method allows for the maximum retention rate.

“The impact is substantial. Think of it as drip irrigation that is very effectively absorbed by the plants that receive it instead of turning on a garden hose. While some is received and nourishes the plants, a lot of it just trickles or evaporates into its waste, doesn’t it So we know for a fact that it’s very efficient and very effective in driving not just knowledge from a current skill perspective but also the retention of that knowledge,” says Shanas, also mentioning that technicians must meet a certain score in each module to progress.

That’s what sold Sumwalt. Once he chose to go ahead with the platform, Boyes and Shanas trained him extensively for nine months in using the app. Within the platform, Sumwalt is able to add educational performance incentives – it offers giveaways, raffles, tool or equipment auctions and a signed Green Bay Packers jersey – to keep up with the progress of its technology, actively compete with other stores’ scores for prizes, and more. Sumwalt says these benefits, along with the onboarding process, were integral to the success of in-app membership on its store.

“Dave and Ron would meet with me every week in Zoom meetings, and they had goals for that meeting and they had it clearly defined and defined. So they were like, ‘Okay, this meeting, we’re going to talk about how you do that part of the integration.’ And then I hang up the phone, and I do. This week would go very well, and the following week they [say]’Okay, now that we have this data in the system, we’re going to use it to figure out how to talk to this tech and see you what they need help with and this tech on this and, you know, that progressed every week,” says Sumwalt.

For Tom’s Auto Shop, where the technicians are all under 35, Sumwalt thought it would be best for his team to learn a digital approach. And he was right. His team not only embraced the idea, but they compare notes with each other to add another level to the learning experience.

“I have four ASE-certified technicians on my staff; they’re all very smart, very smart. I found that really helped, that was a lot of those knowledge gaps, some of the things fundamentals… That’s how it helped a lot,” says Sumwalt.

“I mean, I couldn’t have – from that day reading this article – thought that it would have changed my whole store culture. Everyone loves it. They sit at the table of the break room, they talk about it. They talked about the questions. They talked about their scores. They interact with each other through it. I mean, they love it. It’s great,” Sumwalt says.

Tom’s Auto Center; McFarland, Wis.

  • Staff size: 11
  • Store size: 14,000 square feet
  • Berries: 12
  • Number of cars: 325
  • Annual revenue: $1.7 million

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