Obsolete didactics and even national regulations serve as obstacles to effective learning in the maritime industry, despite an excellent starting point provided by the STCW. Traditional course instructor should be replaced by a facilitator that interacts with students in a blended learning environment. A key element in such a learning environment is educational technology that empowers the facilitator to adapt to the needs of the students.
The maritime industry is fortunate to have a convention that provides precise requirements for knowledge, understanding, and skillset. STCW (The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) provides tables that outline the requirements for all certifications covered by the convention.
Obstacles to effective learning
Despite the excellent starting point provided by the STCW, however, it is challenging to organize quality courses that ensure participants fulfilling the requirements. Obsolete didactics and even national regulations that only serve as obstacles to effective learning are common worldwide. An example of the problem is a course where an instructor presents relevant topics to a group of course participants using a predefined number of hours decided by the national authorities. This approach assumes that the instructor is sharing his knowledge with a novice audience. One-way communication is the worst possible way to teach no matter the age and experience of the people participating. In cases where the course participants are adults with already extensive knowledge and experience, this approach is devastating for both the learning outcome and motivation.
A predefined number of hours to cover a set of topics in a course has its origin in the same obsolete didactic. The IMO (International Maritime Organization) in London publishes model courses suggesting the amount of time you should spend on different topics. These model courses are suggestions on how to transform the STCW convention into courses in education and training. Some of them are good, others have room for improvement. None of them are more than guidelines from one professional to another. The link between spending a predefined number of hours listening to an instructor and achieving the desired learning outcome is doubtful at best.
We believe in a socio-cultural approach to education and training where a facilitator replaces the instructor. To ensure effective learning, we have to create learning environments where the students and the facilitator can interact using relevant components. The illustration below suggests how to set up maritime courses where the learning objective includes both knowledge, understanding, and practical skills.
The illustration shows a suggested framework to create a blended learning environment.
We suggest organizing your courses into three steps using a-books, facilities for practical training, and assessments as the major components.
Step 1 Mapping and improving knowledge and understanding
The course participants get access to an a-book covering the relevant topics and training assessments for each of them. The training assessments will give each participant individual feedback on their progression. At the same time, the facilitator will get input on knowledge gaps via TERP Classroom. These gaps are valuable input the facilitator should analyze and utilize when preparing for practical training. The information allows him or her to address the needs of the particular group of course participants and even help individuals who need specific guidance.
Step 2 Practical training and demonstration of skills
Having the input on knowledge gaps, the facilitator can be more focused and engaging with the learners. A facilitator focusing on the individual needs identified by the abooks will increase the participants' motivation and enhance the learning. In cases where the theoretical input and practical exercises are closely connected, which is the case for STCW courses, an experienced facilitator will be able to provide the input naturally embedded in briefings before practical exercises and in debriefings after.
Step 3 Final assessment
The third step is a final assessment where course participants have to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. We suggest an assessment where each participant gets a predefined number of questions randomly selected from a database. This database is separate from the database supporting assessments in the first step of the course. Use a variety of question types. Too many assessments only use multiple-choice questions giving the course flaws by design.
Assessments are essential parts of courses that focus on the achieved competence instead of the number of hours exposed to an instructor. See a separate article about this subject.
The learning process defined in experimental learning (D. Kolb, 1984).
We have observed that many maritime training centers tend to have the assessment after the theoretical lessons, and before practical training. We strongly recommend having a final assessment after completing practical training. The reason is that courses striving to follow best practices must create an interaction between theory and practice. When this interaction is in place, the course will facilitate the stimulation of the whole learning process. It is not just about abstract conceptualization and concrete experience, but also about what happens when combining the two: experimentation and reflection. Having the final assessment at the end facilitates a more active learning process.