The pandemic forced maritime schools to make major changes. But what’s coming next in the training sphere may be just as revolutionary…
The transformation happened quite suddenly. Training schools worldwide went from teaching in traditional classrooms to delivering lessons online as country after country fell prey to the pandemic. Between travel restrictions, which persist today, to the closures of brick-and-mortar buildings, it became necessary for maritime crew of all sectors to access mandatory training in alternative ways.
“E-learning for a lot of the MCA courses — actual Zoom classes — wouldn’t have been allowed before COVID. They became allowed almost overnight,” says John Wyborn, training director at Bluewater in Europe. “It was a temporary change of policy. Officially, we are allowed to run courses in Zoom until the 31st of December this year, but I would be astonished if they actually stopped it; I’m sure it will carry on.” Because now, as Jay Lasner, CEO of Bluewater Training USA, puts it, “The genie’s out of the bottle, we can’t stuff it back in. COVID, I think, accelerated the realization that this is really something that’s needed by seafarers, shipping companies, and management companies.”
Also helping the case for online learning is the fact that it has worked better than expected. “We were teaching courses in a Zoom classroom that I never thought we’d do,” says Wyborn. “We have a three-week navigation and radar course, and I thought that’s just not appropriate to do in a Zoom classroom. We’ve done four or five now and it works really well, and the pass rates are good. Actually, I don’t know if it’s a significant trend, but they’re better.” And, no, students were not cheating at home, as they still needed to come in to take the exam in the traditional way, Wyborn explains.
Lars Lippuner, director of Warsash Maritime School in Southampton, seconds this surprise at the success of online classes. “I never would have thought that worked if you asked me a few years ago,” he says. “There are courses where we taught students attending in the classroom while others attended the same lesson remotely, dialing in. It works astonishingly well.”
Distance learning in the form of asynchronous courses has been around since before COVID — online lessons that are done on the student’s own time by downloading materials. It’s the synchronous training — which happens in real time taught over Zoom, Teams, and the like — that is new and has made up the bulk of training centers’ online offerings since the pandemic began. Also new are hybrid or blended classes where theory may be learned remotely and hands-on skills are practiced at the school.
Between travel restrictions, which persist today, to the closures of brick-and-mortar buildings, it became necessary for maritime crew of all sectors to access mandatory training in alternative ways.
The last 18 months have been a crash course in e-learning, which has raised as many questions as it’s answered. “How do you deliver quality training that meets the needs of the flag, that meets the needs of the regulatory bodies, that meets the needs of the students, that’s relevant, timely, technologically effective, cost effective? These are the kinds of things that are really being looked at, and a lot of the maritime (industry) has been behind on this. Even now, I think there is the start of a paradigm shift,” says Lasner.
In the UK, Lippuner of Warsash along with Dr. Carole Davis of Solent University took a first step towards answering these questions by documenting feedback from training providers and students during the first nine months of the pandemic, which was overwhelmingly positive. That’s not to say it’s been seamless. Their report, Digital Learning Captured Lessons, published in March 2021, recommends that, “further effort is required to embed (digital learning) successfully into maritime education and training. Digital delivery is fundamentally different to a classroom setting and as such, courses need to be redesigned rather than just replicated to be fully effective. The redesign requires up-skilling of staff and the implementation of new digital tools into the provider’s learning environment.” For instance, one of their suggestions was that a mix of asynchronous and synchronous lessons in an online course could be an effective strategy.
Not all courses lend themselves well to remote learning, and students particularly noted challenges with chart work. Those requiring specialist facilities like simulators are also difficult to teach online. Warsash, which boasts Europe’s largest maritime simulation center, managed to deliver training via cloud-based simulation using newly trialed software during the UK’s first lockdown.
Warsash Maritime School's Lars Lippuner says. “There are courses where we taught students attending in the classroom while others attended the same lesson remotely, dialing in. It works astonishingly well.”
In addition, some courses only work when students are physically together, namely Bridge Resource Management and Human Element, Leadership and Management (HELM). “The whole idea of HELM is to interact with people. You can learn the theory part of HELM (online), but I’m not sure that you can really get the value out of it without interacting,” Lasner points out. The lack of student interaction in general is another consequence of remote learning that concerns educators. Wyborn notes that students gain a lot when they talk to each other about what they don’t understand and explain the concepts among themselves. Here again, technology came to the rescue. “As the (online) courses have been going on, the students are all chatting away between themselves and with the instructor in WhatsApp, which tends to carry on before and after the course as well. So it’s actually worked better than I ever thought it would,” Wyborn says.
As the world emerges from lockdowns, students are back in the classrooms for the most part. “Most training sectors have returned to a ‘normal’ level and that will only further stabilize as more vaccinations are completed and the industry, as well as the world, comes to terms with what the new normal is,” says Ted Morley, COO and principal of Maritime Professional Training (MPT).
But this “new normal” will offer more flexibility than pre-pandemic times, with e-learning here to stay, agree training providers. At MPT in Fort Lauderdale, for instance, despite full classrooms, the school is still developing online courses. “We will be working with regulators around the world to continue to offer them after the pandemic,” says Morley. “This approach allows for students to obtain core knowledge prior to coming into the classroom, not only shortening their time spent there, but also making it more accessible and affordable for mariners to obtain these certifications.”
What Else is New?
When it comes to regulatory courses, not much has changed since the 2010 Manila Amendments introduced new training requirements several years ago — with one exception: the IMO has mandated that all safety management systems include a plan for cyber-risk management by a vessel’s first audit after January 1, 2021; one aspect of this plan is crew-awareness training. In fact, say the cyber security experts we spoke to, it’s the first step and a crucial one.
“Just having a bit of awareness and good practice raises your (protection) level,” says Alexandre Bayeux, co-founder of Xperys. “Cyber security is like running from a bear: you don’t need to be the fastest, you just need not to be the last one!”
Indeed, cyber criminals look for the easiest target, and the human element is the most vulnerable. “The biggest threat does come from within — it’s the people on board that can be compromised,” says Will Faimatea, founder and director of Bond TM, which partners with Maritime Cyber Solutions to deliver both virtual and live training. Yet a 2020 study by Inmarsat showed that 43 percent of superyacht crew had not had any cyber security training.
The IMO doesn’t specify the particulars of the training, like for firefighting or sea survival. “There is no internationally recognized certificate as such on cyber security training. Whether that will occur in the future, I’m not sure. I think it would be good to have it,” says Peter Broadhurst, senior vice president of maritime safety and security at Inmarsat, which endorses a two-hour online course developed by MLA College and delivered by app. “Until there is a certified course, it doesn’t really matter which one you do as long as you do something. That’s the main thing,” he says.
Options abound at this point, running the gamut from a one-hour entry-level e-learning course from Bluewater in Europe, offered through partner Cobweb Cyber, to a more intense three-day course at Warsash with specialist Cyber Prism, which rewards participants with a CISCO Introduction to Cyber Security certificate.
Bayeux of Xperys runs his training program at La Belle Classe Academy at the Yacht Club de Monaco in three modules — each is one to two hours long. The first covers essential learning for all crew; the second is targeted to the captain, chief steward/ess, and officers and teaches how to brief new crew and manage contractors who have remote access to the ship’s network; and the third focuses on compliance with insurance companies and the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry, which issued a Guidance Note on cyber-risk management following the IMO’s resolution.
Regulatory training tends to attract more crew than non-regulatory, so it’s no surprise that there has been an uptick in demand since the first of this year when it became obligatory. Bond TM, for instance, went from running the courses once a month to every week. This new interest seems to have come just in time, since COVID also ushered in a four-fold increase in maritime cyber attacks in spring 2020 when remote work became the norm, observed cyber-risk management specialist Astaara.
An MCA working group met at the Monaco Yacht Show with the MCA’s new assistant director for Modernising Maritime Education, the aforementioned Dr. Carole Davis. As her title suggests, she has been in place since January 1 this year to shake things up and develop a new training strategy for the maritime industry.
It’s the synchronous training that is new and has made up the bulk of training centers’ online offerings since the pandemic began. Also new are hybrid or blended classes.
Wyborn, who is part of the working group, says they plan to fix the disconnect between the classroom and vessel. “At the moment, Jay (of Bluewater Training USA) and I and the other yachting schools spend a lot of time trying to get the information and skills into students in the classroom, and then they go on board and they just forget it, because they might not be working on the bridge, they might actually be working on the tenders, or they’ll be doing something else. There’s no reinforcement on board; there’s no learning on board.”
He explains that the MCA is working on a new training record book for onboard training that will be directly related to what is being learned in the classroom. “They will be much more closely aligned. That is going to improve the way people learn, and it will engage crew in mentoring, and (right now) mentoring is in a shocking state in the superyacht industry,” he says.
In addition, Wyborn adds, they are looking at the possibility of making simulator time count for some of a seafarer’s sea time, and that “obviously” digital learning will be part of the mix. “There’s going to be some interesting developments over the next couple of years.”
This feature originally ran in the November 2021 issue of Dockwalk.