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The crisis: an opportunity for crew competence

Bjoern Sprotte, the CEO of OSM Maritime Group, writes exclusively for Splash today on the potential for online training.

When the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, measures were put in place around the globe to restrict mobility of people in an unprecedented effort to limit the spread of the new virus. Consequently, large parts of crew training stopped overnight. All training methods requiring personal attendance are affected, for example: classroom lecturing, crew conferences and simulation. Technological advancement allows to take a fresh look at how this crisis can be an opportunity to drive modern crew learning and development. Competent seafarers play a critical role to ensure safe ship operations for functioning global supply chains.

Before diving into the opportunities, let us first understand the expectations of crew members towards learning. For any training, professional and relevant content remains most important. In a digitally connected world where information is available anywhere and at any time, it is fair to say that personal learning and development should not be an exception. Learning at your own pace and choosing from a catalogue of relevant content are considered essential. A modern learner also wants to share and receive knowledge and feedback between peers. Ideally, an integrated learning and development platform combines these elements of professional career advancement.

In a time where personal interaction is substantially limited, technology can help to accelerate the transformation to enhanced maritime learning and development. Traditional methods which require personal presence are costly and inflexible. Training facilities need to be maintained and booked, travel is required, and seafarers are separated from their families during their leave times. Moreover, traditional training happens in peaks and misses out on making things stick through continuous repetition. It is not all bad and most certainly personal attendance remains relevant for certain cases. Simulation could be one example even though VR can complement. For most cases, alternative methods are promising and may prove their sustained relevance beyond the present crisis.

In many cases, excellent content has been developed by shipmanagers and operators. This can be easily amended to suit the new ways of learning. For example, webinars or video conferences are virtual classroom options which can be implemented fast and with short lead time. Crew members can connect in different locations at the same time without the hassle of travelling. Where appropriate connectivity is available, even crew onboard can participate. Over a very short period, it is possible to engage with a much larger audience than traditional classrooms would allow. Depending on the systems used, interaction can happen in plenum or breakout rooms. Voice or chat functions allow real-time feedback. Polls have also proven to be very effective.

Even after the sessions, participants can engage via chat groups with an additional benefit of developing a sense of belonging to a community, which can have a positive effect on company culture. Virtual classroom settings can be further enhanced by sharing documents or videos in advance and following up with small bite-sized relevant content over the weeks after the training in order to increase the effectiveness through repetition. By making this content available on a learning platform, it is only a small step towards providing crew with the opportunity to learn at their own pace individually or together with others. Very soon, crew will be able to book webinars of interest themselves instead of being asked to attend by their employers.

Further options like serious gaming and VR may also gain traction during the crisis. A very interesting opportunity to further enhance and round off the learning and development experience lies in the use of Artificial Intelligence to personalise content based on learning history, feedback, appraisals or competency assessments.

Every opportunity of course comes with challenges. Effective online training requires full attention and minimal distraction. First hand experience shows that this can be addressed very well by creating awareness and facilitating the sharing of experience. Some crew members may even take active role to moderate chat groups and thereby become ambassadors to support and sustain a new, modern approach for crew learning and development beyond the present crisis – to their very own benefit.

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