What’s the Best Way to Teach Your Students About Electricity?

Posted by Kirk VanGelder on Feb 11, 2019 2:18:00 PM


Most people know that manufacturers are continuously incorporating more technology and electronics in new vehicles. As a result, there is a need for higher level electrical and electronics training. 

But during the time I spent with CDX providing classes to update technicians, I found that, as a whole, they had a deficit of foundational electrical knowledge and experience. For example, many techs wanted to focus on higher-level electrical and network diagnosis, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t prepared. In fact, a pretest showed that these techs didn’t know how electricity behaved or how to properly use their digital multimeter.

So, instead of covering the higher-level electrical content they wanted to learn, I found that I had to go back and cover a LOT of the basics they still needed to learn. Only after they became proficient in the basics could they move on to the higher-level electrical testing and diagnosis. 


The Conundrum of Teaching Electricity

Teachers know that learning electrical concepts is not easy for most students, but it is critical that they become proficient in electrical theory and testing in order to be successful in today’s workplace. What many successful electrical instructors have found is that it takes students two or three exposures to electrical theory and content for them to understand the concept. This requires a fair amount of scaffolded experiences with clear, concise explanations, detailed illustrations, interactive animations, real-world simulations, and hands-on exploration. If students can engage in these kinds of activities, most will be able to master electrical theory and testing.

Another challenge is that many auto and diesel instructors are not completely proficient in electrical theory and testing, so the transfer of knowledge is, at best, incomplete. Many times, this leads to misinformation and poor understanding for students.

One way to overcome this roadblock is by using comprehensive training materials. These can provide teachers and students with the resources necessary for building a solid foundation of concepts and understanding. In fact, instructors can sometimes learn right along with their students! 


So, what’s the bottom line?

  1. Electrical theory and testing is critical for today’s technicians. Don’t skip or rush through these, even if you are not very good at them yourself. Plan where to best include them in your syllabus.
  2. Electrical theory and testing MUST have an accurate and complete foundation in the basics. Choose your teaching materials carefully to make sure they are complete, accurate, and fit both your teaching style and the students’ learning styles.
  3. Learning electrical theory and diagnosis usually takes students more than one time to become proficient, so don’t try to cover it all at once. Break the subjects down into smaller chunks that students can master. Move on to other subjects and come back to it periodically to reinforce the concepts you’ve taught; then, introduce new ones. Don’t make the mistake of starting at a level that’s too advances or moving on too quickly before the students are ready.
  4. Help students understand the behavior of electricity. If they understand how it behaves, they will be well on their way to figuring out what to do when there’s a problem. This is the basis for electrical testing. A simple concept to help with this is to keep your eye on the “I” (amperage); if a basic electrical circuit isn’t working properly, it is going to have either too little or too much amperage. There are only two reasons why the amperage in a circuit is wrong: either the voltage is incorrect or the resistance is incorrect. Knowing this will point you towards the tests needed to identify the fault.
  5. Give students plenty of practice building and testing circuits to help them understand how electricity behaves. You can start out with interactive animations and simulations and then  transition students to training boards. Finally, make sure they also get on-vehicle, hands-on experience. This is where they will demonstrate that they are ready for the workplace and that they understand and can apply what they’ve learned. 

Taking these steps will help your students obtain the foundational electrical knowledge and skills necessary to be effective technicians in the workplace. They will also be a step ahead of many current technicians when they’re prepared for higher-level electrical training classes. And, as an added bonus, you will have solved the conundrum of teaching electricity!


Need help covering the basics of electrical theory and more with your students? 

Check out the latest edition of Fundamentals of Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair, in which Kirk provides a practical application and breakdown of electrical concepts along with coverage of every maintenance and light repair (MLR) task. 

Read a sample chapter

Topics: Student Engagement, Curriculum