A Classroom in Your Pocket
If the popularity of language-learning apps indicates future success for mobile learning on the go, Today’s Class may be on to something.
Headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, Today’s Class focuses on building on a similar foundation as apps such as Duolingo and Khan Academy by providing short-form educational lessons that can be completed while you’re brewing a pot of coffee.
The company, which has been around for 20 years and under the guidance of Dave Boyes, president, and Ron Shanas, a 40-year auto industry veteran, began like most educational programs, through instructor-led training. By 2019, Today’s class released its digital product and took aim at helping train auto technicians while providing technical education to secondary schools, career centers, and technical colleges.
The app, available for Apple and Android, also has a web-based interface. It aims to help automotive technicians increase their efficiency in a timeframe that suits their schedule and keeps them engaged every day. Once inside the app, that artificial intelligence picks up on what the user knows, what the user doesn’t know, and areas where the user’s confidence in particular subjects needs to improve. Shop owners can also recommend modules where they see weaknesses in their employees.
"The idea is that each day, somebody can be learning something new; somebody can be learning something in which they need help with …. So, from a shop owner's perspective, you probably have a sense of what areas your A techs or B techs or service advisors need to be trained on, given the type of work that you have been doing. The system can combine those things—your focus areas with what you know, and what you don't—to make sure that it's pushing you training that's relevant for you,” says Boyes.
This daily learning format, as Boyes and Shanas discovered, was the breakthrough that shop owners needed to crack the code in providing a method of ongoing training for their technicians and service advisors without monopolizing their personal time with lengthy online training. For a shop owner such as Tom Sumwalt of Tom’s Auto Center in McFarland, Wisconsin, this app was a golden opportunity to give his technicians an easy avenue to continue their education while shaking off the learning gap caused by COVID. Through the app, his technicians were able to train on their own time right from their phones, which created a convenient solution.
“What made me excited to come and check it out was the idea that I've been struggling, especially during COVID, because my technicians were not interested in Zoom classes or, you know, [training] through a computer. They were really struggling with sitting at home for four hours, and then getting the technical information that way,” says Sumwalt, who discovered Today’s Class while thumbing 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 hours last night; the kids are crying' you know what I mean? That kind of story.”
Not only do technicians learn in small, digestible chunks, but as Shanas points out, this method of short, focused learning allows for a maximum retention rate.
"The impact is substantial. Think of it as drip irrigation that's very efficiently absorbed by the plants that are receiving it as opposed to turning on a garden hose. While some of it is received and nourishes the plants, a lot of it runs off or evaporates in his waste, right? So, we know for a fact that it's highly efficient and highly effective in driving not only knowledge from a current competency perspective but also the retention of that knowledge,” says Shanas, also mentioning that technicians must meet a certain score in each module to progress.
This was what sold Sumwalt. Once he chose to move forward with the platform, Boyes and Shanas trained him extensively over the course of nine months on using the app. Within the platform, Sumwalt is able to add incentives for educational performance—he’s offered giveaways, raffles, auctions for tools or equipment, and a signed Green Bay Packers jersey—to track his tech’s progress, actively compete against other shops' scores for prizes, and more. Sumwalt says these benefits, along with the onboarding process, were integral to the successful buy-in of the app within his shop.
"Dave and Ron would meet with me through Zoom meetings every week, and they had goals for that meeting and they had it clearly outlined and defined. So, they'd say, 'Okay, this meeting, we're going to talk about how you do this part of the onboarding.' And then I get off the phone, and I do it. That week would work out really well, and the next week, they'd [say], 'Okay, now we've got that 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 about this and, you know, it progressed every week," Sumwalt says.
For Tom’s Auto Shop, where the technicians are all under 35 years old, Sumwalt thought a digital approach would be best for his team to learn. And he was right. His team not only has taken to the idea, but they compare notes with one another to add another level to the learning experience.
"I have four ASE master-certified techs on staff; they're all very smart, very intelligent. I found that what this really helped with was a lot of that gap knowledge, some of the fundamental kinds of things … That's how it's helped them quite a bit," says Sumwalt.
“I mean, I could not have—from that day reading that article—thought that it would have changed my whole shop culture. Everybody loves it. They sit at the break room table, 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,” says Sumwalt.
Tom’s Auto Center; McFarland, Wisconsin
- Staff Size: 11
- Shop Size: 14,000 square feet
- Bays: 12
- Car Count: 325
- Annual Revenue: $1.7 million