Online Coursework: Fact or Fiction?

27 October 2009 By Louisa Beckett

Over the next two weeks we're going to be posting a series of articles on training, including the cost of training, tomorrow's engineers, and how to pass the yachtmaster. We begin by looking at online training.

Whether you are currently employed or looking for work, taking crew training classes and upgrading your level of professional certification can make you all the more valuable in the current job market. While there are crew training institutes in most of the yachting hubs around the world, more and more yachties are wondering, “If I can go get a college degree on the Internet, why can’t I take my STCW certification courses online?”

The answer is that online crew training would have to comply with the requirements of the maritime certification agencies of different flag states – which traditionally include showing up in person, ID in hand.

“I think online training is a good idea,” said Bridget Featherby of the Professional Yachtsman’s Association (PYA). “The problem is MCA would still want you to have a physical presence when you take the exam.”

One solution is to let students do their preparatory coursework on the Internet instead of in the classroom before arriving at the bricks-and-mortar institution for the practical coursework and final exam – considerably shortening the amount of time they would have to spend ashore. Bluewater Yachting of Antibes, Palma de Mallorca and Fort Lauderdale, is currently developing this type of online program.

“We are going to start offering it with engineering courses, but we are looking to offer it across the board,” said John Wyburn, Bluewater Yachting’s director of training. “I am hoping to have a course available by the fall of 2010.”

Wyburn says it’s worth the investment to develop an online class that will make the self-study portion of the coursework easier. “We are always looking for better prepared students,” he said. What’s more, Bluewater Yachting is considering refunding a portion of the online tuition to students who complete their training at one of their facilities ashore. “They will get a chunk of that money back when they turn up to attend the course,” Wyburn said.

International Yacht Training in Fort Lauderdale also is developing online classes, according to IYT President Michael French. “It’s not a simple process because the flag state authorities want to make sure [the courses] comply,” he said, adding that IYT wants to take the time to do it right.

IYT’s focus is on creating “blended coursework,” with half the class taken online and the remainder completed on site. “The important thing is that that [students] would be able to do their learning at their convenience rather than ours,” said French.

A quick survey of the major training institutes yielded just one that currently offers an online training course approved by a regulatory agency: Calhoun M.E.B.A Engineering School (CMES) in Easton, Maryland, U.S.A. CMES recently announced it has added two U.S. Coast Guard-approved online professional training courses to its curriculum: STCW Crowd Management Online and Crisis Management and Human Behavior Online. These two courses are administered via the CMES Learning Management system, which the school’s administration billed as “the first true Distance Learning System to be approved for training mariners.” The school went on to say, “CMES’s LMS embraces four important aspects of Distance Learning, which had to be addressed to satisfy the USCG: technical delivery standards conformance, privacy, uniform quality of training, and sustainability.”

While these two courses only represent a fraction of the universe of crew training courses, the fact that CMES was able to earn USCG approval represents a “great leap” toward the digital age.