Making maritime blended learning work

Apr 09 2021

Two maritime training companies, Marine Learning Systems of Vancouver and Stream Marine Training of Glasgow, are collaborating to provide an “end to end maritime training solution” – combining e-learning and in-person learning to make a company wide learning management system.

Shipping companies have responsibility for ensuring their crews are competent at any time. There is a large gap between achieving that, and deciding which training courses they should be sent on. The collaboration between Marine Learning Systems of Vancouver and Marine Training of Glasgow aims to fill that gap.


Marine Learning Systems provides a platform which shipping companies can use to manage their entire training needs at a fleet, vessel or individual crew member level.


Stream Marine Training provides mandatory safety critical courses and technical training programs.


With the courses and the platform together, shipping companies can manage all stages of their training, including understanding training needs and knowledge / skill gaps, pre-learning online, knowledge assessment, on-site training and assessment, continuous knowledge assessment, continuous skill assessment, and refresher training.


This enables shipping companies to manage the competency of the staff holistically, so able to ensure the crew of their vessels are competent and have not lost their skills over time.


They can also get the best of both e-learning and in-person learning. Using both together is sometimes referred to as “blended learning”. Blended learning can be more effective than just using e-learning or just using in-person learning, but it does need to be structured.


Today, while most shipping companies use external providers for their training courses, whether e-learning or in-person learning, they often build their own learning management platforms.


Marine Learning Systems

Murray Goldberg, founder and CEO of Marine Learning Systems, previously founded one of the world’s largest learning system companies.


After graduating in computer science at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in 1989, he stayed on as a faculty member, with an interest in online learning and its effectiveness.


This led him to found a company WebCT in 1996, which provided a learning management system for universities and colleges. It grew to 350 employees, supporting 14m students, and was sold in 2006 for CAD$200m.


He started his next project, developing a maritime specific learning management system, after a Vancouver ferry sank the following year, and the company invited him to try to improve their training,


A Wikipedia page on the vessel, MV Queen of the North, cites reports saying the accident was due to not making a planned course change, but a contributing factor may have been confusion among crew members about how the autopilot worked and how to disengage it.


Following the accident, “BC Ferries decided they wanted to become a world class training operator,” Mr Goldberg says.


At the time, there was much research showing that blended learning produced better outcomes than in-person learning, so long as the program was well designed, and BC Ferries wanted to explore this further.


At the time, BC Ferries was training people “basically through job shadowing” - someone following someone else and watching what they do, Mr Goldberg says. This was “very hard to standardise and measure.”


Mr Goldberg ran a blended learning pilot, which the company was happy with, which led to requests for a learning management system which could be used across the company.


Following the implementation of the program, they calculated that accidents were reduced by 70 per cent, both minor and serious. Days lost due to injury reduced 66 per cent, and insurance claims reduced from CAD$3.5m a year to $800k a year.


Today MLS provides a “strictly maritime focussed learning management system”. Customers include Canadian Coast Guard, BC Ferries, Carnival Corporation, The Staten Island Ferry, Moran Towing and Fugro.


Stream Marine

Stream Marine, based in Glasgow, was founded by Martin White. His background is working in merchant marine as a deck officer, and working for a while in the oil and gas sector.


In January 2014 he set up a maritime educational business, training people in personal survival techniques. Within 2 years it had rolled out 30 different courses, including 20 STCW courses, later adding courses on Arctic specific survival training for the Polar Code and the IGF Code (low flashpoint fuels), including training cruise company staff to use LNG fuel.


It is working with flag states to get official recognition for some of its courses.


Making blended learning work

Blended learning works best when the in-person learning and e-learning are co-ordinated to make a seamless whole. “Too often they are very separate,” Mr Goldberg says.


There are many different types of e-learning, ranging from just text on a screen, to rich graphical simulations, and much in between, all with different costs and benefits. There are also technical advances happening which make simulation based courses cheaper to make. AR and VR can also play a role.


“All these things are happening right now,” he says. “It  brings to every domain expert's hands the ability to create online learning tool which is very effective.”


An advance of online learning over in-person learning is that everybody can work at a different pace, he said. Everybody has different pre-existing knowledge.


It makes it much easier to deliver consistent outcome, because everyone can take whatever time they need to reach the required level.


“The stereotype of the older person having more trouble has been mostly interestingly false,” he says. ““It was more of an issue before than now - we don't hear about it very more.”


Being able to do spot assessments of knowledge and skill is very important, he said. You can find out what the “knowledge fade” looks like, and where the re-training is needed.


Technology can be very helpful in showing what is not working – for example, if people choose one answer then change it to another one, you can see that they are not so confident about their knowledge.


It can also show particular areas where someone’s knowledge is weaker, for example that they tend to do worse on questions in a certain area, or many people in the company have the same misconception, getting the same question wrong. “It is very actionable data,” he said.


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