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Text, Video, Simulations and More. What is the Most Effective Media for Maritime Training?

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on May 13, 2013

One attribute that makes an on-line maritime training implementation successful is appropriate use of media such as text, imagery, video, simulations and even gaming. In this article I am going to look at how to choose the best media for your implementation. Some of the advice may surprise you.

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Text, Video, Simulations and More. What is the Most Effective Media for Maritime Training?

Training is moving on-line - or more correctly, to a blended model. This is more than a trend. It is a move to more effective, more accessible, and more efficient education. As such, it is a move that is unlikely ever to be reversed. Therefore, as someone involved in maritime training, it is important to think about and understand what makes the difference between "good" and "not good" eLearning implementations. Because, as with all other training methods, not all eLearning experiences are created equally.

In the 18 years that I have been involved in eLearning as a researcher, instructor and LMS developer, I have been fortunate to have had a front row seat to all manner of eLearning implementations; some good, and some not so good. One of the many attributes that makes an eLearning implementation good (effective and efficient) is appropriate use of media. And by media, I am referring to the choice of text, imagery, video, simulations and even gaming - or any combination of those as ways of delivering eLearning. I have also been fortunate to have had a front row seat to a lot of discussions, and therefore a lot of opinions, regarding the use of media. What I have found incredibly surprising is that I frequently run into what I call "media bigots" - people who are of the opinion that there is a strict ordering of media. Text is worst. Images are better. Video is better still, and so on. This is a misguided opinion because each media type has its strengths and limitations. The best implementation is the one that chooses media appropriately to achieve the desired goals.

In this short series of articles, I am going to look at some of the most popular media types and discuss their relative strengths and weaknesses. This first article will introduce the subject and focus on text as an educational medium. Some of what I say may surprise you. The next article (two weeks from now) will comment on images, audio, video, simulations and gaming, and will point you to an interesting article on the use of gaming technologies for maritime training. Please click here if you would like to be alerted when I publish that and future articles (if you have not already done so). Let's get started.


There is no shortage of choice when it comes to eLearning media types. We are all familiar with the use of text, audio, images and video in eLearning implementations. But to make the conversation even more interesting, there are other more esoteric media types such as web-based simulations, gaming and immersive environments. And just as there is no shortage of media types to choose from, there is no shortage of opinions on what constitutes the best choice. It is common to run into the opinion that the more sophisticated media types are automatically better at delivering a quality learning experience. I disagree. Each media type has advantages and limitations and the best choice requires careful consideration of your learning goals, the knowledge and skills you are training, how much training you have to do, the nature of your audience (trainees), how big your budget is, and (very importantly) how frequently the training content changes. And although we will look at individual media types, it has been found that combining media types provides the best results. This takes advantage of the strengths of each while minimizing the limitations of any one and also serves to provide learning reinforcement which is well aligned to how we learn as humans. This is a very powerful finding which has been proven in both research and experience and I'll talk more about it in the next article.

No Significant Difference

One important fact to note before we dive into the different media types is that most research suggests that, broadly speaking, when training content is held constant, changes in delivery media create no significant difference in student outcomes or satisfaction. So, regardless of whether a course is taught in person, via traditional correspondence, on the web or using video, the outcomes are the same. This is called the "No Significant Difference" (NSD) phenomenon and it is the subject of a book analyzing 355 research reports on the subject : Thomas L. Russell, "The No Significant Difference Phenomenon: A Comparative Research Annotated Bibliography on Technology for Distance Education".

If there is no difference, then you might conclude that the best choice is to simply select the cheapest delivery mode. Sometimes this is indeed the correct thing to do, but at other times it is not. First, it is important to remember that the NSD research looks broadly at a variety of knowledge courses taught at universities. The maritime industry, however, is somewhat different than higher education in that there is also a focus on skills not generally found in higher education. The best media choices for knowledge learning are not necessarily the best ones for skills development.  Secondly, although the population, on average, learns knowledge equally well from any media type, individuals often report being able to learn better from one media type vs. another. As such, the nature of your audience will influence your media choice.

Text - Yes it IS Effective!

People love to hate eLearning implementations filled with text. They are often viewed as boring, slow, sleep-inducing, and ineffective. I have a very different view of text as a learning media. Almost every complaint leveled against text as a learning media is, in fact, a criticism not of the media type (text), but of the quality of the writing. Text, written well, can be incredibly compelling. It can be fascinating! It can very effectively and very comprehensively convey knowledge. Every one of us has read outstanding examples of writing that achieved their goals. Textbooks, love them or not, have been a staple of education since the invention of the printing press. Part of the reason for their longevity is the simple fact that they are effective. So text can be an excellent instructional media - but as with any media, it must be done well to be effective. Likewise, any other media type, executed poorly, can be very boring and completely ineffective. Therefore, I consider the choice of media type, in most cases, much less important than the quality of the instruction (writing in this case) and implementation. A great implementation will be effective regardless of media type. A poor one will not.


Text also has a number of advantages. One is that it is a very "dense" medium. That is, it can convey a lot of detailed information with a very small footprint. This is a two-edged sword. The benefit is the ability to convey a lot of detail. The downside is that it is common to mistakenly pack too much material into learning resources without providing enough structure, enough time and enough supporting instruction or experience to help consolidate the knowledge. This speaks to the power of blended learning. In this case text to document and convey knowledge, plus (for example) hands-on practice to relate that knowledge to the skills it supports. So - if you have a lot of detailed information to convey, text may be a very good choice.


Text also has the wonderful property of being easily searched and scanned. We take this for granted, but it is actually very powerful. Our brains are adept at quickly scanning over large quantities of text to find what we are looking for or at skipping over sections that we do not find to be relevant. When scanning in this way is insufficient, the LMS may provide the ability to search for keywords in the text. This "random access" property allows us to be much more self-directed in our learning than is the case for media such as videos which are generally neither searchable nor easily visually scannable. Therefore, if you want your trainee to easily be able to focus on the sections relevant to them and skip those which are not, text may be your friend.

Initial Cost and Ongoing Maintenance

In the cases where text is an appropriate choice educationally, it comes with another enormous advantage. Low cost. Cost is a great advantage in itself because low cost means that you can do much more with a fixed budget using text than you can with any other media choice. However, the benefit is actually much deeper. Text is not only comparably inexpensive to initially create, but even more importantly, it is inexpensive to change and update. This is in stark contrast to the cost of updating most other media types such as videos and simulations. Small changes to those are very very expensive in comparison.

We especially care about cost for any subject of instruction which is likely to need frequent updating - which, today, applies to most subjects. If you choose a media type which is more expensive to update, you may find that when budgets are tight, your learning resources will be less likely to receive updates and will progressively become less effective and less relevant. Text, on the other hand, is very quick and easy to update and correct. The typical result is that it can be updated quickly to respond to subject matter changes and user feedback. This means that text will often be more relevant, correct and up to date than its counterparts. This is very important - remember that when you use other media types, you are not only committing to an increased initial cost, but are also committing to increased maintenance costs for the lifetime of that instructional resource. Our experience at BC Ferries has been that learning materials are in constant flux due to factors such as continuous improvement, ship refits, the availability of new information and so on. To support updates we have created a simple feedback mechanism which allows all trainees and trainers to provide instant, on-line feedback when they see a needed change. The feedback goes into a workflow and the change is made in a timely fashion. The result is quick and efficient maintenance of the learning resource, leading to a high degree to confidence and buy-in.

Another important consideration is that even if the instructional subject is relatively "static" (is unlikely to change in the near term), your execution of it is unlikely to be perfect out of the gate. As soon as it is in use you are likely to think of additional information or explanation to add, and to receive suggestions for improvement. The ability to update the materials at low cost will therefore facilitate continuous improvement. High-cost materials impede this process.

Skills vs. Knowledge

Text as a media type does have some limitations. One downside of text is that it is not very useful for teaching skills. In order to be proficient at a skill, some amount  of hands-on experience is critical. Having said that, every skill requires a foundation of knowledge. Therefore, teaching skills is often best achieved using a blended approach. First teach the knowledge which underlies the skill (text or other media can be used for this) and then move to a hands-on training phase where demonstration and practice take place. Simulation can also be an excellent skill acquisition and reinforcement tool.  So while text alone cannot be used to teach a skill, a combination of text (or other media) and hands-on practice is often the most  effective approach.

Language Barriers

Another issue with using text alone as a learning media is that trainees whose first language is different than the one used for the learning materials will have more difficulty. This is the greatest limitation of text in an our industry where participants are from all parts of the globe. English textual descriptions may be very effective for those whose first language is English, but may be less than effective for those with other linguistic backgrounds. This is a difficult problem as it is usually impossible to present a comprehensive learning program without at least some text. However, there are ways to reduce the impact of the issue.

First, where possible, translations are effective. In cases where there are only two or three languages which need to be covered, this can be a viable strategy. In this case the expense of creation and maintenance is increased, but the costs are likely still much lower than for other media types.

If translation is not viable or the audience is too diverse to make one or two translations sufficient, then supplementing the text with an audio transcription can help reduce the issue for a couple reasons. First, some trainees may have experience working in an English-language setting, but have little or no formal English-language training. Those people are likely to have greater comprehension of spoken English. Second, by providing two "deliveries" of the same content (spoken and written), you will accommodate a greater breadth of individual learning styles and language competencies. So while it will always be difficult to learn a subject using a non-native language,  there are some approaches which can help.  


Using text (vs. images, videos, etc) as an instructional medium can be highly effective and very cost efficient as long as it is done well and matched to the learning goals and audience composition. It is a dense medium (allowing deep coverage of the subject) and is very efficient to create and maintain. Having said that, text does have limitations (as do all instructional media) and therefore it is often best used in combination with other media types. We will discuss the strengths and limitations of these other media types, as well as combining media types, in the next article.

Until then, take care and feel free to click here if you would like to be alerted when I publish that and future articles (if you have not already done so).

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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.

Blog Notifications: For the latest maritime training articles, visit our company blog here. You can receive notifications of new articles on our company blog by following the blog.

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