Bricks & Clicks: Beyond Maritime eLearning

Jun 09, 2010, 7:03AM EST
The new Maritime Technology Training Taskforce (M3T) is the product of input from the Maritime Industry, Government and Regulatory sectors, Maritime Training Institutions and Technology Providers. Goal of the Strategic Alliance is to improve mariner training outcomes using existing and future technologies.

It is about to get a lot more exciting – and perhaps more convenient – to satisfy a host of maritime training objectives. Extending from the most basic aspects of professional knowledge for cadets or those just entering the industry, all the way to complex and onerous STCW training, the concept of blended learning for the maritime community is very much in its infancy. Leading up to the 2nd Annual International Maritime eLearning Symposium (, scheduled to begin on July 20th, the collaborative blended learning effort – or as MEBA’s Dan Noonan calls it – “M3T,” is gathering real momentum. And, while not everyone is on board just yet, the list of initial stakeholders is both impressive and gives weight to the hope that mariners everywhere will be the primary beneficiary when it is all said and done.


M3T is the acronym for the newly formed Maritime Technology Training Taskforce. Simply stated, the effort will be the product of input from stakeholders who represent the Maritime Industry, Government and Regulatory sectors, Maritime Training Institutions and Technology Providers. The goal of the Strategic Alliance is to improve mariner training outcomes using existing and future technologies. The initiative will require collaboration between all parties, sharing data and assets with the ultimate result of bringing professional training to the maritime community in a more efficient manner, at a lower cost and to a wider audience. Properly executed, M3T could yield a “win-win” scenario for the regulatory sector, the mariners who operate in that environment, and yes, the schools that provide that training.


  • eLearning Meets “Bricks & Clicks”


If eLearning was the maritime training ‘catch phrase’ for last year, then M3T will probably be the theme for 2010. Industry stakeholders will likely get their first good look at the concept in July when a two day blended 'Clicks and Bricks' Workshop on Adobe Captivate 4 (1.2 CEUs) will be presented by Westlake Training ( at the 2010 Maritime eLearning conference. The First Day of that presentation will be delivered – appropriately combining the bricks and mortar of the traditional classroom with today’s technology – by a Virtual Classroom and on the Second Day, on-site at the Conference.


Last year, at the same conference, Acting Deputy U.S. Maritime Administrator James Caponiti described the potential, lasting influence of eLearning on the maritime industry by saying, “eLearning may well be the most exciting tool to impact the maritime industry since the advent of simulators.” Already, his words ring true. Last year, the Coast Guard’s approval of two distance learning modules for STCW compliance brought to light the true power of eLearning. Today, this technology, coupled with components of traditional hands-on training, is poised to save mariners time and money while at the same time widening the reach of dozens of maritime training centers that otherwise might cater only to a local audience, with a limited curriculum. Exciting times, indeed.


The M3T initiative continues the development of eLearning for the maritime community, but also exposes some of its limitations. Using the STCW-required Basic Safety and Training (BST) course as a perfect example, some training material could be delivered online; with the student taking the on-line section delivered by a particular school and then to another approved facility to take the practical “hands on” portion. This provides a more efficient use of physical resources as well as being less expensive with savings in travel and lodging. The possibilities for other physical and fiscal economies of scale are probably as wide as the eWorld that connects the classroom to countless students who might not otherwise be able to afford to go.


  • Reasons for Optimism & the Voice of Caution


One particular arena where blended learning might just have an immediate impact is at the U.S. maritime academies, where the additional layers of STCW requirements already in place are straining time and financial budgets. At the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Dean of Academics (Captain) Brad Lima this week expressed optimism that blended learning could help, but also brought to light a few caveats. “The concept has merit,” he said, adding “We’ve got to find a way to reduce the burden of the STCW training requirements. Combining a traditional system with online training might be one way to do that.” Lima then cautioned, “There are more than a few wrinkles to iron out.”


Mass. Maritime today accomplishes almost all of its STCW training for cadets in-house, but at an enormous annual cost of USD $1.2 million. And with the European model of training for future officers continually impacting STCW requirements, the task only promises to get more onerous down the road. For his part, Lima was open to discussing any ideas that might wring more value out of his campus, while at the same time bringing down the overall cost. Calling the blended education “a good model,” he also said flatly, “For the knowledge based component of training, eLearning is entirely appropriate. For the performance based portion of the training, it is not.”


There are many unanswered questions. Lima brought up a scenario whereby one school provides 24 hours of online training, followed by 16 hours of practical, hands-on learning received at another. “Who awards the certificate?” he asked. In this example, not only the learning process itself was blended, but also the providers of the training. In other words, the model scenario for the M3T crew, but also something to carefully consider. Lima says that this combination brings with it a host of other issues. “At some point, the school that awards that certificate might get held responsible by the Coast Guard if something later goes wrong.”  


  • M3T: Stakeholders, Ownership & Collaboration


Dan Noonan of the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School has thus far been the primary catalyst for the M3T initiative. That said, he stresses that he will be a stakeholder, and not the owner. Noonan insists, “I am motivated by just two things with this project: Passing on knowledge to fellow shipmates and doing it in ways that have not been done before. Both are a real thrill.” Before that can happen, though, he’ll need to bring together a wide coalition of interests, some of whom actively compete in the open market with each other. That process, as a minimum, will be interesting to watch.


Noonan this week also told MARPRO, “We are in the final stages of organizing a blended learning workgroup that will meet on the Tuesday of the eLearning Conference (July 20th).” Thus far, he says that Jim Cavo from U.S. Coast guard Headquarters will be attending, along with Bob Smith from the National Maritime Center, and Gordon Halsey from DNV, as part of the Government/Regulatory Section. He also hopes to attract stakeholders from MARAD, MSC, ABS, and the U.S. representative to STCW to finish out that group. The Workgroup has an Article/Forum based website on line at ( ). Additionally, he will invite representatives from the maritime training organizations (Academies, Union Schools, and Commercial), who will form the basis for the Training Section.


The goal, according to Noonan, is to get stakeholders to exchange ideas and concerns through the Forums and Articles, culminating in the meeting on July 20th, where issues can be sorted out and concepts refined. The conference would ideally end with a working document with which to move forward. Noonan summed up the current situation by saying, “Right now we have all of these schools and academies running pretty much closed-loop training, not sharing physical/technology/subject-matter resources. Bricks and Clicks, or blended training can be an excellent way for these folks to retain their program autonomy and still ‘partner’ with other schools to deliver maritime training.” 


  • In Real Practice 

Comprised of key players in the maritime Industry, the regulatory and training Institution sectors, and Technology Providers, the M3T alliance simply hopes to improve mariner training outcomes using existing and future technologies. Participating members would maintain their autonomy and:

1.      Reduce training costs;

2.      Increase productivity;

3.      Extend technical and operational resources;

4.      Free existing training resources to concentrate on innovation and core business activities

5.      Use complementary resources and capabilities, enabling participants to grow and expand more quickly and efficiently; and

6.      Position its members to expand their training offerings into the global market place.


To that end, M3T looks to establish a set of working guidelines, recommendations, and procedures that would provide direction for Maritime Training to pool, and then share physical, technology, and Subject Matter Expert resources. Consistent with these objectives, Noonan believes that the formation for these guidelines will necessarily require the guidance and advice from the Government/Regulatory Sector.


  • End Game: Maritime Training that Works for Everyone


Almost two years ago, MEBA introduced to industry the first U.S. Coast Guard approved online, distance learning STCW courses. Initially slow to embrace the concept, the waterfront is now firmly on board. The pure online distance model, however, is not for all courses. Reaching into his bag of MEBA-based engineering metaphors, Noonan readily admits, “Teaching how to pull the head on the engine without having that engine nearby would not be the best idea. That’s where M3T comes into play.”


Noonan has always known from the very beginning that the STCW level online training that ‘blended’ training would be the ‘end game.’ The design of MEBA’s Distance Learning System (DLS) that received NMC approval has several core components that will work with a variety of scenarios (Live student teacher interaction, simulations, for example) and will allow blended training to be incorporated into an already approved DLS. Those additions all need NMC approval. They also need “buy-in” by stakeholders who may be skeptical of something that did not originate from within their own shop.


A logical outcome of getting all these people together is to be able to allow everyone to retain their autonomy and ‘branding’, but also produce a set of procedures and arrangements/agreements that can be presented in a formal way, either to MERPAC or some other mechanism for establishing an approved system. In a perfect world, the end game includes a wider menu of training offerings, available to a larger demographic, packaged economically so that more mariners who want the training can afford it, and lastly – but perhaps no less important – a system that is economically beneficial to those who provide the training.


“Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find a way.” When Abraham Lincoln first spoke those words, he no doubt had bigger fish to fry than delivering STCW material to greenhorn cadets or sailing industry professionals. Nevertheless, getting to the Promised Land for Dan Noonan and his blended learning, M3T gang will not be easy. If and when they do, it could profoundly change the delivery of maritime education here and abroad – and forever. – MarPro.

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Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of He can be reached at MaritimeProfessional is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.

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Ron Oyer
This is a good start however, the US has a long way to go towards achieving the level of training that has been the norm in Europe for years. US academies are supposed to be training mariners however, the hands on part of sailing and safety takes a backseat to the degree arena.
6/9/2010 10:38:49 AM