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Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Educational Opportunities for RVers



 By Gary Bunzer

Daniel J. Boorstin described education this way; “Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.” That, in effect, just may represent many RV owners out there, especially those enthusiasts who may have just begun the RVing lifestyle in recent months. Educator and cognitive learning professor, Howard Gardner, further opined, “You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.” Most RV owners certainly care about their recreational investment while enjoying the traveling life. And I know for a fact that many of you tinker with your rigs and get excited when you’re able to take care of a problem on your own, rather than taking the time and spending the money for a professional to solve the issue. Thus, it stands to reason that the more we can learn about our coaches, especially the technical aspects, the better prepared we will become for ensuring that enjoyment level endures.

Okay, that makes sense, you say, but where do RVers find those educational opportunities, other than taking detailed notes during a coach delivery walk-through or reading through the literature that came with the coach?

It just so happens there are quite a few choices available to the RVing public that can propel even the most casual coach owner deeper into what I call, the technical intricacies of today’s, relatively complex recreation vehicles. It just depends on your personality type and to what depth you actually want to go as to which path of learning is the most appropriate for you. Though not all-inclusive, what follows are some of the more visible learning opportunities to consider.

Formal Brick and Mortar Schools
Though primarily created to provide individuals a means to become professional, certified RV technicians and to find meaningful employment in the RV industry, many seats in the following two formal schools are filled with proactive RVers who simply wish to take their handyman status to a higher level. It’s one thing to perform requisite preventive maintenance procedures on an RV, but to possess the skills necessary to effectively troubleshoot and actually repair components and systems on the coach, a more deliberate approach is needed; that of a detailed curriculum. 


The longest running program in the country is the RV Service Academy, located in Palmetto, Florida. Founder and Director, Dr. Tom Santoro, originally began the school in Pennsylvania in May of 1986 and moved to the warmer climate of Florida in recent years.



RVSA presents a 10-week curriculum three times each calendar year. Start dates typically are the first week in January, towards the end of March and the middle of September. Classes are run daily from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM with a mostly 60/40 split between hands-on applications vs. classroom lectures. RVSA’s philosophy states, “The Recreational Vehicle Service Academy is an institution of higher education, which seeks to create an environment of opportunity and learning. Students are encouraged to develop the highest degree of technical competence, professional development and social responsibility. RVSA utilizes small class sizes and hands-on instruction to enable its students to achieve their goals.”

For additional information regarding the RV Service Academy, visit them on the Web at www.rvsa.net, or contact them by email at rvsa@tampabay.rr.com.

Another 10-week training program is proffered by the RV Training Center, also located on the west coast of Florida in the city of Largo. Co-founded in 2006 by Sam Alsop and Dan Mackie, RVTC rolls out their courses four times each calendar year with classes beginning in January, March, July and September. As with RVSA, RVTC’s curriculum focus is centered on plenty of hands-on experience. According to their Purpose Statement, “RVTC will attempt to become the leader in training by developing service and repair skills for both RV service technicians and RVers alike. With the help of manufacturers and our knowledgeable staff, our training program will prepare students to take our own comprehensive certification test as well as the RVIA exam, a nationally recognized industry exam that also pave the way for master certification and further enhances their credentials.”

Prior to co-founding RVTC, head instructor Sam Alsop was the head instructor at RVSA for five years and is a sixteen-year RV industry veteran. Like RVSA, classes run from 8:00 AM to 3:30, five days a week. Visit RVTC on-line at www.rvtrainingcenter.com or by email at rvtraining@verizon.net for further information.

Both RVSA and RVTC are VA-approved and credentialed by the State of Florida and both have excellent support staffs to take care of all the necessary paperwork and follow-up. The close ties between the two schools continues with all graduates from both schools parlaying their discussions and mutual support of one another via a private, web-based, active community where they can share additional knowledge and information.

The brick and mortar schools both work closely with students coming in from different areas of the country to provide lodging and transportation assistance during their 10-week stay in Florida. Many students live in their RVs while attending the classes, further expanding the hands-on potential as well as providing their home away from home.

Though each school issues their own certification for graduates, they both host the proctored RVDA/RVIA certification exam. For the most in-depth, albeit condensed, training covering all the essentials of RV repair, the brick and mortar schools may be just up your alley.

Internet Learning
For those knowledge-hungry coach owners wishing for detailed information, but simply cannot relocate to Florida for ten weeks, perhaps Internet learning, also called distance learning, may be a better option. The advantages of the Internet-based distance learning programs is that you can work at your own speed, at times most beneficial to you and in the comfort of your own home or motorhome. In most cases, all you need is a high-speed Internet connection and time. The downside is the lack of focused, repetitive hands-on practice and the camaraderie of working within a classroom/lab environment. Internet learning also requires a dedicated amount of discipline and self-motivation.

Mark and Dawn Polk of RV Education 101 offer the “Go for the Gold” on-line RV training program for conscientious coach owners. The program consists of three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold, each containing four weeks of training materials. As with many on-line distance learning programs, “Go for the Gold” is self-paced and packed with over 45 videos, numerous feature articles and a multitude of additional, consumer-level RVing tips. The 12 weekly RV training courses consist of everything from the major systems to exterior care to towing and more. 

For further information, check out this site, or contact Dawn Polk at: Dawn@rveducation101.com.

The Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association (PRVCA), has partnered with Northampton Community College who offers an on-line RV training program. Designed originally to prepare entry-level students for RVDA/RVIA Certification, it is also open to interested coach owners as well. This curriculum presents three courses each semester, (three semesters per calendar year). There are a total of thirteen individual courses in the program, but you can pick and choose which course(s) you’d like to attend since each one is individually priced.
 
Contact: Jackie Bare at 610-861-5390 to register or for further information regarding start dates and pricing. She can also be reached at: jbare@northampton.edu.

RV Safety & Education Foundation
Most RVers of any tenure have either heard of or attended one of the long-running Life on Wheels programs created by industry giant, Gaylord Maxwell. Since Gaylord’s passing, the RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF), has taken up and rekindled that method of providing quality education for all RVers at an annual gathering. Noted RV experts, fluent in all things associated with RVing; lifestyle, travel, weight safety and technical topics ranging from preventive maintenance to product specific information, make up the training staff.

Presented like a college slate of courses, the attendees (students) rotate from room to room for each session. Most of the sessions are repeated so that all students have a chance to attend the classes they choose. But seating is limited (just like a college program), so be sure to register early. To read a short article about RVSEF, click here. For additional information about this year's conference, please contact them at: staff@rvsafety.com.

Specialty Schools
If you feel a need to only seek a deeper understanding of one particular subject rather than a comprehensive, fully-slated agenda, perhaps a specialty school would interest you. Ford Refrigeration offers a comprehensive program designed to teach you how to troubleshoot and recondition RV absorption refrigeration cooling units, typically as a business venture, though they do extend an invitation to RVers as well. It is a fact that many cooling units are misdiagnosed and simply thrown away. As anyone who has had to replace the cooling unit knows, this is not an inexpensive component! Their detailed, 40-hour program, presented at their facility in Benton, KY, covers many topics.

In addition, they also offer advanced certification (one to five additional weeks). And if you already possess RV refrigerator experience (must be provable, however), there is a 32-hour program that teaches only the cooling unit reconditioning procedures. A third option designed just for coach owners is a short course (approximately four hours), in which RVers can gain an understanding of the electronic controls of the absorption refrigerator.

For further information, contact Ford Refrigeration at this link.

Supplier Schools
Many educational opportunities are presented by individual supplier manufacturers, (those who make the widgets found in RVs), and made available to coach owners. As an example, HWH Corporation has a very detailed, on-line program open to anyone with an interest in the particulars of hydraulic levelers and slideout mechanisms. Many motorhomes are equipped with their equipment and possessing the correct information regarding their products can only augment your understanding of the operation as well as how to perform the necessary preventive maintenance steps. Simply click this link to learn more, or contact HWH at: school@hwhcorop.com for more information.

It just might be worth the email or phone call to any of the suppliers whose equipment is outfitted on your motorhome to see if they offer any kind of technical training for consumers. It certainly can’t hurt to ask and it just may provide the impetus necessary to get them to consider creating a program if one does not exist at the present time. After all, an educated consumer is a benefit to the supplier and the RV industry as a whole!

Technical Training Seminars
Every large RV gathering, like the FMCA International Convention and Good Sam Rallies, is chock full of technical training seminars, as most of you reading this are already aware. Seminars are a great way to learn from independent training experts, product manufacturers and others, all calendared in with the multitude of events at the conventions. Seemingly, one could get brain overload just looking at the typical schedule of seminars available. The good presenters create a detailed handout so attendees can simply bask in the topic, then, when convenient, pour over the details.

In addition to the extremely popular FMCA Conventions and Good Sam Rallies, many local and regional RV shows and gatherings also feature technical seminars along with their displaying of the newest motorhomes and travel trailers. As an example, I’ve been presenting technical seminars at the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association Show, at Harrisburg and now Hershey, since 1989 and every year I see more RVers in the seminar room, ready to soak up the information like sponges.

The same is true for some of the larger RV dealers in the country. Many will present technical topics to their customer base. Oftentimes, these seminars are also open to the general public. If you live or travel in the areas of some of the country’s biggest mega-dealers, it might be worth a call to see what they have to offer.

Even individual coach manufacturers have gotten into the training field by offering user-friendly classes for their particular brands of recreation vehicles. So a quick call to your manufacturer may yield yet additional opportunities for learning the ins and outs of your particular coach.

Well, I began this article with a couple of interesting quotations about education in general. Perhaps this quote from author, William Feather, might suffice as a fitting conclusion; “Education is knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it’s knowing how to use the information you get.” You are encouraged to contact any of the sources mentioned above for more information regarding their individual scheduling, pricing and availability. 

Keep in mind that, with the exception of most technical seminars presented at RV shows, the majority of the programs mentioned in this article usually come with a fee or a tuition expense. But as you weigh the costs against the benefits, consider what Andy McIntyre and Derek Bok have proclaimed; “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” And always remember my quote, “RVing is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle!” Enjoy every learning experience!

Disclaimer:

In all instances, every effort is made to ensure the correctness of all content on the RV Doctor Website. It is imperative that if you choose to follow any instructions or procedures outlined on any page of this website, you must first satisfy yourself thoroughly that neither personal nor product safety will be compromised or jeopardized.

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If you are in doubt or do not feel comfortable about a procedure, do not continue. Simply call your local RV service facility and make an appointment with them. The advice, recommendations and procedures offered by the RV Doctor are solely those of Gary. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions, procedures and recommendations of our sponsors or advertisers.