It seems that for anyone under the age of 20, life revolves around an LCD display. From smartphones to iPads to laptops, nearly every bit of information this generation takes in comes electronically. Computers have even replaced books in many schools and libraries. It’s just a fact of life that older generations need to get used to.

Even if you’re not willing to turn your life over completely to computers, it’s worth noting that there are opportunities to use the Internet for something beyond checking sports scores. Following is a look at some of the online learning programs being offered by tree industry organizations to help inform and educate those working in the field.

The International Society of Arboriculture launched its “Online Learning Center” in 2011 and has since expanded the array of curriculum offered. “We started with our legacy courses (such as Introduction to Arboriculture Training Series), which had been available on CD-ROM, but are now available online, and we’ve added three brand-new courses, as well. These include pruning cuts, training young trees and bark beetles,” says Kate Leifheit, ISA’s educational products coordinator.

The three new offerings were designed specifically for online learning, so they feature an interactive format designed to truly involve the learner. “We try to use short video clips as well as question and answer scenarios that give the learner a chance to make decisions. Then, the course will provide feedback to the learner based on the outcome of that decision,” Leifheit explains. “That feedback, and giving the learner a chance to test the knowledge they’ve gained, is an important part of online learning.”

1. ISA’s Online Learning Center offers an array of interactive training programs, so learners don’t have to travel to an on-site training. A series of podcasts is also available online. In both cases, quizzes are offered, allowing learners to earn CEUs.Photo courtesy of ISA.
2. CFE Group captures presentations on key topics at tree industry meetings and uses that information to build high-quality online training modules. Split screens allow learners to see the presenter, as well as any documents or PowerPoint slides that were part of the initial presentation.Photo courtesy of CFE Group.

3. Alliance for Community Trees’ webcasts touch on topics such as selecting the right species of tree for given applications. CEUs are available for those who take part in these online training opportunities.Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Community Trees
4. Those interested in particular topics – in this case urban soils – can view CFE Group modules, which include quizzes that can be completed for CEU credits.Photo courtesy of CFE Group.

Every online course includes a quiz of at least 20 questions at the end. “The learner takes the course and then the quiz is activated,” Leifheit explains. The test may include a mix of question formats, including matching or drag-and-drop choices. “That lets them test their knowledge to see how much they comprehend. They also can earn continuing education units (CEUs) credits, so if they have a certification with ISA or another certification that will accept this training, then the credits can be counted toward that certification,” she notes.

Learners can take the quiz as many times as they want, but the credits will only be counted once. For certified members, the CEUs will automatically show up on their account the business day after they pass the quiz.

Online learning also lets ISA deliver training to more tree care professionals than conventional site-based training, she notes. “We have some members in rural, less-populated areas, where it’s harder to get to on-site training programs or events, or it costs a lot to travel to them. Online learning provides a lot of flexibility with training,” says Leifheit. “One of the nice things about online learning is that it’s self-paced and interactive, and you can access it at any time of the day no matter where you’re at.” ISA is an international organization with members located in many different time zones, and the online format allows them to access training at whatever time works best for them.

As evidence of that, courses that are purchased through ISA’s Online Learning Center can be accessed as many times as desired for 9,999 days (that’s over 27 years). Because access is essentially unlimited, tree care pros can complete the training and still retain access to the course to provide a refresher in the future.

ISA is even currently offering one online course — Tree Worker Safety — for free. Current ISA members or certified members can use their existing user name and password to access the course; others simply need to create an account on the site. “The Tree Worker Safety course has a year-long license to it, so you can get access to it as often as you want during that year,” states Leifheit. “Some companies use that to help train employees. I would just encourage them to review all of the materials to be sure it’s training them in everything they want their employees to be trained on.”

ISA plans to continually add new courses to its Online Learning Center, says Leifheit: “We’re always listening for what arborists want to know or want to learn about, and then we hopefully can design and develop online courses around that need.” She emphasizes that learners don’t have to be computer whizzes to use the online format; detailed instructions are provided, and those with even basic computer skills should be fine.

For those with more seat time than screen time, ISA also offers a series of audio podcasts that can be downloaded from the organization’s website and listened to anywhere. “Our ArborPod series started with the Science of Arboriculture back in 2009 and features all the latest research on tree care,” says Leifheit. Presentations recorded from ISA conferences or other tree care symposiums are cataloged. “That way people can hear about specific topics they have an interest in,” she explains. Each podcast is usually 30 to 60 minutes long.

Another podcast series on the ISA site is ArborViews, which features interviews with experts and other working arborists and is designed to be a less formal presentation of information. “The hope is that learners will hear practical information that they can apply in the field,” she says. Other ArborPod series include Detective Dendro, which describes clues to diagnose tree conditions, as well as a climbing and rigging series. In addition to providing an entertaining format for taking in the information, listeners can take quizzes based on the podcasts in order to earn CEUs. Those who like a particular series can subscribe in order to get access to new episodes as they come out. There is a charge for the ISA ArborPod series and quizzes.

CFE Group is another online learning source for those working in the tree care industry. Eric Taylor, who created and administers the content at Texas A&M University, says that CFE Group (Continuing Forestry Education) was initially focused on foresters and loggers, but has expanded its content to include arboriculture, pesticide safety and urban forest management.

The program, which runs through the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and includes funding from the USDA and U.S. Forest Service, is dependent largely on government grants. “We’re trying to provide an outlet for all of the training events and presentations that take place live for just a handful of people. We take these training opportunities that only a few are seeing and put them out to the masses,” explains Taylor.

CFE uses professional equipment to record select presentations at tree industry conferences and meetings. Those videos are used to build an online training tool. “We want to only have quality training modules on our site,” he states. A side-by-side format allows learners to see both a video of the presenter and related documents (such as a PowerPoint presentation) on their computer screen simultaneously.

The main objective is to provide learners access to information they might not otherwise have a chance to get, as well as an opportunity to earn CEUs from ISA, the Society of American Forestry (SAF) and other professional organizations. To meet the requirements of such organizations, each online module, which run about 1 hour, is broken up into several chapters, and each chapter includes a quiz. “The learner has to pass the quiz with 100 percent before the next quiz is available,” Taylor notes. Records are maintained to ensure CEU credits earned are always available.

Current CFE modules aimed at tree care professionals include tree growth and development, urban soils, tree disease diagnosis and management, managing tree risk and tree risk assessment, trees and construction and more. “We’re still really just getting started at putting together these modules,” says Taylor, noting that CFE is also learning from the experiences of early users and working to make changes to the training format and improve current offerings.

In addition to general tree care education offerings, there are also online opportunities available from specific segments of the tree care industry. The Alliance for Community Trees, for example, is a national nonprofit that has been producing a series of monthly webcasts for the past four years. “One of our functions is to spread resources and make sure everyone has access to the latest technology and methods of protecting and fostering healthy urban forests,” says Sarah Anderson, program coordinator. “Because we’re nationwide, our webcasts provide an important tool to let us do that.” It’s far easier and less expensive to get information out in this manner than to bring people together at one site for a meeting or training session, she states.

The webcasts are conducted live and typically take place on the third Thursday of every month at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The hope is that this will allow as many people as possible to take part during their lunch hour. There is no charge to register for the webcasts, and the topic is usually advertised a month or two in advance. “We do have a 100-person limit and it’s first come, first served,” Anderson explains. Those who sign up will receive a registration code that allows them to sign in to the webcast.

Because AC Trees’ webcasts are live, participants have the ability to ask presenters questions and otherwise participate as they would at an on-site training. “We usually have two speakers and we’ll do questions right after each speaker,” Anderson states. CEUs are available from ISA or SAF, says Anderson.

After the live webcast is complete, it is posted to the AC Trees website and can be accessed for free (though, obviously, the ability to interact with the trainer is no longer available). Past webcasts have covered topics ranging from tree care smartphone apps to storm response to species selection to tree ordinances and dozens more. “We’re always looking for arborists and researchers and other tree care professionals to present on new topics,” says Anderson.

That’s the beauty of online education: Sharing knowledge and learning from others can be done from your home or office. Maybe the younger generation is on to something with their reliance on technology.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2012 and has been updated.