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Making Self Study an Explicit Part of all Maritime Training – Part IV

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on May 26, 2014

This article is the fourth and last in a short series of articles discussing the huge, but often ignored benefits of self-study in maritime training. Self-study helps to equalize different trainee backgrounds, abilities, and knowledge. And, most importantly, explicitly supporting self-study as a part of a maritime training course or program can improve the quality and depth of training outcomes.

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Making Self Study an Explicit Part of all Maritime Training – Part IV


This article is the fourth and last in a short series of articles discussing the huge, but often ignored benefits of self-study in maritime training. As I’ve said in the articles leading up to this one, self-study helps to equalize different trainee backgrounds, abilities, and knowledge. It creates time for reflection and deeper learning beyond the boundaries of the course. And, most importantly to some, explicitly supporting self-study as a part of a maritime training course or program can improve the quality and depth of training outcomes - simply producing better trained trainees.

The first article introduced the idea of self-study and began to discuss how the deliberate and explicit incorporation of self-study into a maritime training program can yield excellent results in terms of improved learning outcomes, better alignment with a wide range of trainee learning styles, and higher trainee satisfaction. The second article picked up where that one left off to discuss how explicit attention to self-study helps turn trainees into active learners rather than passive receptacles of knowledge, how it enables the exploration of new and varied interests, how it allows critical time for reflection, and how it can leverage the effectiveness of the trainer by the use of the "flipped classroom" model. The third article provided two very simple but very effective (and enjoyable) techniques for introducing self-study into the training you provide.

We will now conclude the series in this fourth article by looking at more ways to implement and support self-study in your maritime training program. But as I reminded you in the previous article, you are limited here only by your imagination. So take the examples below as a starting point. We all, including you, have something to contribute. Never be afraid to experiment and share your experiences. Everyone benefits.

So – let’s now move on to more examples of how to improve your training by integrating self-study into your maritime training programs.

Reflective Exercises

Another variant on directed self-study is to provide exercises which require not only research and creativity as those above, but also reflection. It is too often the case that our maritime training (and in fact education of all kinds) is far too focused on the assimilation of a very specific set of facts and skills, and provides little or no time or incentive for the trainees to actually reflect on those facts and skills, and on their importance. By “reflection” I am talking about the act of moving past memorization and actually thinking deeply about the fact or skill. Reflection also inherently encourages criticism – the act of examining a fact or skill and considering for yourself whether that fact is valid or that skill is being performed correctly. I cannot overstate the importance of training our students to critique everything they learn. Critique leads to deeper understanding and makes lessons relevant. Yet we almost never facilitate and teach it. Self-study can help here.

One of the best ways to motivate reflection through critique is to appeal to the rebellious nature of our trainees to positive effect. An effective way to do this is to give an assignment where the students are required to find some reasonably authoritative information about a particular topic, and then critique it. I have done this many times with excellent results.

As an example, let’s say you are teaching first aid and would like to have the trainees learn CPR. The usual method would be to show a video, discuss it, provide a demonstration, and so on. Those are effective, but we could do so much better. To do so, we could supplement the training just described with an assignment to find some (any) CPR instructions and then critique them using the lessons they have just learned. The CPR instructions to be critiqued could come from anywhere, and I suggest you be completely flexible in allowing the trainees to choose their source. For example, they could be CPR instructions found on-line, they could be instructions recorded by interviewing an instructor or superior, or even an example of CPR found in a cartoon or movie video clip. With these “instructions” in hand, the trainee is asked to reflect carefully on them and provide a critique. What part of the instructions were correct? Were there any errors? Were there any omissions? And, like in the examples above, if time allows the in-class presentation of the student findings, another very effective and motivating dimension is added to the training.

As in all the other examples of self-study, this example allows the trainee a great deal of freedom in how they learn. The “process” is completely flexible and can be adapted to their own interests and learning style. However, the outcome is uniform – each trainee has been required to think deeply about what constitutes correct application of CPR. The learning provided here goes many layer deeper than simple demonstration and discussion. And as with most examples of self-study, it is engaging and easy to add to any course.

Active Exercises to Supplement In-Person Activities

Another way to employ self-study is to supplement activities which are typically done in person with a self-study component. One concrete example is vessel familiarization done via ship tour. In a typical scenario, a trainer might take a small group of trainees through a vessel, showing them around and pointing out items and locations of interest. This is a great and necessary exercise which would be difficult to replace. However, it is often the case that trainees find this to be an overwhelming experience. So much information needs to be taken in with a limited time to do so and a new context to do it in. It can be dizzying. Adding an active self-study exercise after the ship tour can be of tremendous help in consolidating the information introduced during the tour.

Such an exercise can take any form, but the goal is to allow the trainee some time to explore the vessel on their own time and their own terms (to the extent possible). For example, one approach would be to have the trainees go on a bit of a scavenger hunt through the vessel, either alone or in small groups, after the guided ship tour. They could be given items to find or questions to answer; things they could only achieve by finding them on the vessel. There are obvious safety implications to having trainees wander around a vessel without an instructor, but (depending on your context), these can generally be overcome with the right instruction and possibly a list of “no go” areas and “no touch” items. And remember, these same people are going to be trusted wandering around the vessel on their own at some point. By having a constrained and well considered exercise to guide their first experience, they will be much better prepared.

The really valuable contribution of an exercise such as this is that it allows the trainees to spend whatever time is necessary to fill in the gaps left by the standard ship tour. Each trainee will come away from that tour with major gaps in their knowledge, and those gaps will be different for each trainee. Time on their own exploring the vessel, motivated and made safe by explicit exercise instructions, allows each trainee to close their specific gaps. This is a huge benefit.

The Role of Technology and the Flipped Classroom

Many of the self-study examples given above refer to the use of the classroom as a place to discuss, debate, and present results. I suspect there is little argument that these are very motivating and effective training activities that can greatly improve learning outcomes. They can completely transform a lesson from a somewhat boring, marginally effective experience to a very successful, engaging and memorable one. And successful and engaging training leads to successful and engaged mariners.

Even if we all agree that the use of discussion, debate and presentation in class is desirable, it is not likely that we are able to increase (or interested in increasing) the number of hours we all spend in class. This was an issue identified long ago – there are many things we can do in class to greatly improve learning, but to do so, we have to give up something that we currently do in the classroom. What can we give up?

In the last 10 years or so, thanks to the new tools provided by educational technologies, this problem has become much easier to solve. In essence, eLearning allows us to take some of the activities typically accomplished in class, and move them outside the class without any reduction in effectiveness. This enables a form of learning which I’ve written about in the past; it is called the “flipped classroom”. You can read about the flipped classroom in more detail here and here, but I’ll summarize it briefly in this article because of its relevance to the topic of self-study.

In the flipped classroom, the in-class experience and the outside-class experiences are "flipped". That is, instead of lectures happening during class time, trainees are asked to watch videos of lectures (or possibly read some learning module, or both) outside the classroom - before class. Then, when the trainees arrive in class, instead of being lectured to they undertake “higher value” learning activities such as the ones discussed in the self-study approaches above. They can ask questions, participate in discussions, make presentations, and do problems and practice in the presence of (and with the guidance of) the trainer. Simple, but very different.

The point of this is that the one-way lecture experience does not require a "live" lecturer. Video lectures or other on-line training content can be used as a substitute for the lecture experience with very little, if any, negative effect. Once that is done, the trainer is freed from lectures and his or her time can now be used doing for "higher value" and more educationally effective interactive work with the trainees (the "in-class" part of the flipped classroom). The knowledge transfer part (the lecture) has many effective and viable alternatives. Why not use them and put the trainer to work doing real training?

The flipped classroom approach is valuable in itself since it better utilizes the expertise and attention of the trainer. If you combine the flipped classroom approach, or even a partial flipped classroom approach, with some of the self-study exercises above then you are able to create a far more engaging and successful learning experience than is possible with traditional training practices.


Self-study is an immensely powerful and easy to apply learning tool. Yet its value is often overlooked and its use is typically left to the student. By making self-study an explicit and facilitated part of maritime training we have the opportunity to improve our training and make it a much more engaging experience. There is so much we can do to improve training in this industry. Why not take the first step? What do we have to lose?

Thanks so much for reading. Until the next installment of the maritime training blog, sail safely!

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About The Author:

Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (www.marinels.com), the creator of MarineLMS - the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Murray has won over a dozen University, National and International awards for teaching excellence and his pioneering contributions to the field of educational technology. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.

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