An EE’s Guide to Ongoing Education During COVID-19March 20, 2020 by Gary Elinoff
Are you feeling marooned at home by social distancing? Now may be the perfect time to brush up on the basics.
COVID-19 has caused many companies to suspend operations or send their employees home to work remotely. Restaurants, gyms, and even libraries are closed to promote social distancing. Many of us engineers or engineering students are just plain stuck at home with little to do.
Some semiconductor companies are rising up at this uncertain time to provide educational resources and free online training courses in order to keep EE's skills sharp.
One of the companies that has come to the rescue is National Instruments.
From now until at least the end of April, the company is offering free access to its entire catalog of online courses to engineers and engineering students alike. These resources can come in the form of interactive quizzes, exercises, and even live instruction.
Landing page for National Instruments' online training sources. Screenshot used courtesy of National Instruments
This article will cover several other semiconductor companies, like National Instruments, that have stepped up to the plate for us homebound engineers interested in ongoing education.
Who Else Offers Free Training?
So far, no one else is unlocking training courses (that typically require a fee) to rescue technical types like us from quarantine ennui. But there are plenty of existing resources from great companies to help us occupy our downtime productively.
Analog Devices offers a host of educational resources with an introductory focus on analog electrical circuit curriculum. Broken into modules and courseware, ADI's ongoing education spans analog electronics, mixed-signal electronics, and signals and systems—organized in small subsections or combined into a PDF eBook.
As an example, if you head to the Courseware category and go to the online teaching materials, you can find a textbook-like table of contents, beginning with operational amplifiers. From there, if you start with "Ideal Voltage Feedback (VFB) Op-Amp," you are brought to a clear explanation of the nuts and bolts of how an operational amplifier works.
A screenshot of one of the many tutorials in ADI's courseware. This one covers ideal voltage feedback (VFB) op-amps. Screenshot used courtesy of Analog Devices
This curriculum is a helpful resource for students that are transitioning from in-class lectures to all-online learning. It's also a useful tool for working engineers to brush up on the basics.
Take it from me—TI’s documentation is superb. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered trying to understand other companies’ impossibly bad explanations, only to get set straight by good old TI.
TI has a landing page dedicated to training and videos, broken into four parent categories: applications and designs, other content (which includes resources for students), products, and tools and software. While some of these resources provide support for using TI products, others are generally educational, like the TI Precision Labs series.
TI Precision Labs features a whopping number of video for each of their categories:
- Amplifiers (73)
- Clocks and timing (6)
- Data converters (56)
- Interface (24)
- Isolation (10)
- Motor drivers (15)
- Switches and multiplexers (15)
- Sensors (29)
Note that all of these numbers are current to the time of this article's publication, but TI adds to their video series almost weekly.
A screenshot of one of TI's Precision Labs videos. All videos are transcribed as well. Screenshot used courtesy of Texas Instruments
If you're not in the mood to peruse the resources by category in the left sidebar, you can head straight to your desired topic through a keyword search of the training library. Want to learn about brushless DC motors? Just type "BLDC" into the keyword search and you get a number of informational resources.
Silicon Labs also offers a training landing page that is broken into both conceptual and product-specific categories:
- Mesh networking
- 8-bit MCUs
- 32-bit MCUs
- Proprietary wireless
- Simplicity Studio
The first thing that caught my eye was Bluetooth. As an example of the kinds of resources you can expect from Silicon Labs, a trip to the Bluetooth category gives you the opportunity to explore Bluetooth fundamentals, advertising surrounding Bluetooth, Bootloading, Bluetooth security, and other miscellaneous educational tidbits. In addition, Silicon Labs also offers a number of whitepapers and webinars that might be of use to an RF engineer working with a Bluetooth-capable device.
Here, the homebound engineer or engineering student can spend a productive afternoon. I chose this example because this technology isn't so much difficult to understand as it is muddled by esoteric terminology. The reader will benefit from seeing it explained in a complete and sequentially logical manner.
Other Resources to Check Out
Several other electronics companies offer ongoing educational opportunities—but I can't promise that all of them are free like the ones offered by National Instruments (temporarily), Analog Devices, Texas Instruments, and Silicon Labs. They might be worth checking out regardless:
And Don't Forget About Us—All About Circuits!
Okay, now it’s time we at All About Circuits blow our own bugle. I may be biased, but no tale of free, online learning would be complete without mention of our own educational resources. If you haven't already done so, check out our open-source, six-volume textbook written by Tony R. Kuphaldt.
For a more advanced look at specific subjects like radiofrequency or power electronics, you might pop on over to our Practical Guide to Radio-Frequency Analysis and Design or the Basic Principles of Power Electronics hosted on our sister site, EE Power. You can also check out our video tutorials if you're more of a visual learner.
Our worksheets can also be a good way to test your engineering prowess in a fun, free format.
Take Control of Your Quarantine Time
So engineers and engineers-to-be, get off that couch and turn off the TV. You may be stuck at home, but as long you have an internet connection, you have access to some great learning opportunities. Don’t let them pass you by!
Featured image used courtesy of Annie Spratt