Engineer training that works

A new way of interactive teaching is helping Boeing engineers retain crucial knowledge

May 26, 2021 in Innovation, Technology

By Brandon Chapman, Boeing Commercial Airplanes

When travelers fly on a Boeing airplane, they rightly expect the aircraft will maintain structural integrity in the presence of repeated loading, corrosion or other forms of damage that may occur in operation, such as foreign object impact or a lightning strike. So engineers involved in structural design and analysis need to have extensive knowledge in durability and damage tolerance (DaDT), which plays a critical role in the safety and economics of the airframe. Their expertise overlaps with that of engineers who specialize in load design, manufacturing, systems engineering, and materials and process technology.

However, most U.S. undergraduate engineering programs do not cover DaDT in depth. That’s where Boeing’s revamped and updated training comes in.

The need for a new learner experience

The Structures Engineering team developed introductory DaDT classes more than 20 years ago. Courses cover the fundamentals of durability, fail safety and damage tolerance. For decades, those classes were long lectures with intricate slides. The learning was passive. And since some engineers couldn’t put their knowledge into practice right away, retention was a concern.

To address these challenges, the team developed a pilot program designed to restructure the training, making it easier for the learner to access and retain crucial knowledge. A new daylong workshop uses modern methods to engage and teach engineers in two areas: inductive learning and active learning.

NEW TEACHING METHODS: Brandon Chapman teaches engineers how to perform fatigue analysis of structural joints. (This photo was taken before Boeing implemented COVID-19 pandemic safeguards.)


A team of technical experts along with an internal learning development organization, Structures University, recognized that not all engineers will immediately encounter DaDT in their functions. So the group focused on inductive learning (also known as backward teaching), which is inquiry and problem based. Rather than begin the class with a lecture on the mathematical equations of fracture mechanics, the instructor first presents the students with a challenge (e.g., the damage of an in-service part) and then gradually introduces the underlying theory and methods.

In this way, the process of finding the solution to the problem is now primarily a learner-centered activity, involving iterative loops as the students incrementally gain the necessary tools they need.

Active learning is anything students do in class to learn material, other than listen to the instructor and take notes, with the key activity and engagement elements. The team employed several examples of active learning techniques across a broad spectrum, ranging from interactive polls and quizzes to more-structured, team-based activities. In one tutorial activity, the students are given a simple spreadsheet analysis tool and then challenged to work together to answer a series of questions. Learning that is hands-on and experiential tends to be more effective because the learner can do something and get immediate feedback.

Active and engaged students

The goal was to create an environment where the students could be active and engaged, make attempts to apply their learning, struggle with the material — even make mistakes — and receive feedback from their peers and the instructor.

Engineers who will engage in DaDT analysis can advance to more in-depth training classes. The training was first offered in late 2016 to Boeing structures engineers in Everett, Washington, and has since spread to other Boeing sites. It has been deployed both in-person and, more recently, virtually in Renton, Washington; Seal Beach, California; Charleston, South Carolina; Moscow, Russia; Kyiv, Ukraine; and Melbourne, Australia.

The Boeing Technical Journal is a peer-reviewed, proprietary periodical for Boeing subject matter experts to capture and share knowledge. This article is a summary of “Effective Durability and Damage Tolerance Training: New Methods for Modern Learners,” an article originally published Nov. 11, 2020.

Read the full paper

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brandon Chapman is a structural analysis engineer in the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Structural Damage Technology group. He also teaches classes on structural durability and damage tolerance.

More innovation at Boeing IQ