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Making Self Study an Explicit Part of all Maritime Training - Part II

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on April 14, 2014

This article is the second in a series that discusses the often-ignored value of self study in maritime training. Making self study an explicit part of maritime training can help to equalize trainee abilities, backgrounds and language proficiency. It creates time for reflection and deeper learning. And, most importantly it can improve the quality and depth of training outcomes. Best of all, it is easy to implement and makes learning much more engaging.

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Making Self Study an Explicit Part of all Maritime Training - Part II


This article is the second in a short series of articles covering self study in the maritime industry. 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. As said in the first article:

 "... the act of self study is something that has tremendous benefits for trainees and learning outcomes. It 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".

There are, of course, many forms of self-study. But what we are discussing here is assigning some learning to your trainees that they are asked to accomplish outside the classroom. Examples include a requirement to research a topic, to watch a video prior to class, to perform an assignment, and so on. These are all reasonably common activities, but we rarely think deeply about the implications of such learning, and therefore about how to use it to maximum benefit.

The first article discussed how self study helps to refocus the training on the outcome (mastery of the topic) rather than the process, how it helps to level the playing field for those whose language is other than that of instruction, and how it accommodates differences in learning styles and pre-existing knowledge.

This article will pick up where that one left off and discuss how explicit attention to self study helps turn trainees into active learners rather than passive receptacles of knowledge (which can be a very good thing), 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. We will then continue by looking at specific techniques for integrating self study into your training program.

Active Learning

The term "active learning" has been around for a long time and there has been a good deal of research on it. Most of that research agrees that active learning produces much better learning outcomes than the alternative - passive learning. So what is active learning? The idea of active learning says that in order to learn well, students need to do something more than simply sit passively and listen to a lecture or watch a video. To learn actively (and more effectively) they need to discuss, create, research, solve problems, and reason. In some sense, they need to struggle.

The secret to active learning is that it not only requires trainees to have to do something, but it also requires that they have to think about what it is they are doing. It is all too common for our training experiences to concentrate on the memorization of facts or the repetitive performance of a skill rather than the far more important aspect of having trainees truly understand those facts or the performance of that skill. Of course, in either case, the trainee will pass the assessment. However, the usefulness of the former (memorization) is fragile . It proves useful only when the memorized facts or skills perfectly match the context in which they need to be applied. The latter (true understanding) is not fragile. The same process that went into acquiring that true understanding is the one that is necessary to be able to apply that understanding in novel situations. Active learning is a process that creates that needed true understanding. It is pretty easy to understand why training that incorporates active learning will improve learning outcomes. So -how does active learning relate to self study?

In fact, active learning does not *have* to be done outside the classroom. It is often the case that the best active learning exercises are those which are facilitated by an instructor. Classes that incorporate active learning tend to be the most effective and engaging of learning experiences (more on this later in the article). However, classroom time is a limited resource and therefore is not available, or at least not often available, for active learning exercises. Therefore, we can do the next best thing which is to create active learning exercises to be performed outside the classroom. These can still be very effective, and can be done either individually by each student, or in groups of students working together. We will cover some of the specific techniques further on. But for now, it is sufficient to understand that active learning is a highly effective model of training which helps to produce better training outcomes and that it can be achieved through self study - work done outside the classroom.


As indicated in the previous article, classroom-based training, while it certainly has its place, is a "one size fits all" affair. One aspect of this is that it teaches exactly the same materials to all of the trainees. On the face of it, one might consider this to be a good thing as it ensures that the needed information is taught. However, it misses the opportunity to target the needs of individual trainees by identifying their interests, and then exploring those interests to inspire deeper and broader learning. We are often so focused on the specific learning requirements of our training that we forget how important it is to the development of our trainees (and of the industry) that we inspire these people to learn! The difference between a crew member who is capable and one who is inspired cannot be overstated. We have all seen inspired people - but sadly not very often. This is partly due to the nature of training we typically provide.

One way to inspire trainees is to introduce them to aspects of knowledge or skills that appeal to their individual natural curiosity. Of course, different things appeal to different people. This is fortunate, but the diversity of interests makes it difficult to pique the curiosity of each learner in the class. Self study can help. I'll discuss specific techniques later, but the idea is that with self study, each trainee is able to (and in fact can be made to) explore those aspects of knowledge which appeal to them personally. This turns the act of learning from a "push" activity to a "pull" activity. Through carefully designed self study exercises, trainees can be given the time and incentive required to discover what it is that interests them. The trainee learns because it is interesting and appealing to them.

Courses which encourage this kind of exploration are helping to create engaged learners. Engaged learners follow their interests - guiding their career toward these discovered passions. In this way, engaged trainees turn into engaged workers. Self study can be an important part of this process.


One thing our traditional training experience is almost entirely devoid of is time for the activity of reflection. In class, lectures are often fast paced and trainees must concentrate intently to capture all the learning nuggets. During practice, trainees are engaged in the activity at hand. Reflection is not a part of these typical training experiences. By reflection, I am referring to what happens when we take time to stop, consider what is being learned, to relate it to other knowledge and contextualize it, and to reason about it - i.e. time to "reflect" on the knowledge or competencies being taught.

Reflection is a critical part of information and skill assimilation. It turns information into understanding. It consolidates memory and greatly improves retention. It also allows the trainee to determine where his or her limits of understanding lie and turn that discovery into questions or a plan to expand those limits. Good learners make  a point of taking time to reflect on what they have learned. Some do it by taking time to re-read and re-consider the information in the lecture or course materials. Others do it by re-writing and re-phrasing their course notes, considering them anew while they do so. But those are the "good" learners.

Most trainees don't take the time. They don't know any better and it is not a requirement, so why bother? But we *do* know better, and it turns out that self study is the perfect time and opportunity for reflection on course contents. By creating self study requirements which encourage reflection as part of our training, all trainees benefit by the deeper understanding that results. Later we will discuss specific examples and techniques that illustrate and encourage reflection on course topics. But once again, self study can improve training, this time by facilitating the critical act of reflection.

Flipped Classroom

I have written before here and here about the trend toward the "flipped classroom" and the promise it holds for more engaging learning experiences, more "high quality" interaction with course instructors, and better training outcomes. In the flipped classroom model, the lectures are removed from the classroom, and in their place active learning exercises are inserted. The difference between the flipped classroom and the kind of active learning referred to earlier in this article, is that with the flipped classroom approach, the active learning exercises are done in class, with the facilitation and guidance of the instructor. This is an important difference. While active learning in any form (including via self study) is a benefit, active learning with the involvement of a knowledgeable instructor is even more powerful as a learning tool. This is the value of the flipped classroom - guided active learning. We will discuss specific techniques for active learning exercises via the flipped classroom shortly (if you prefer not to wait, you can refer to the two articles referenced above).

So, what is the connection between the flipped classroom and self study - the topic of this article? In the flipped classroom model, we use the (valuable) instructor time in class to facilitate active learning. But what, then, happens to the lectures which are displaced by these active learning exercises? Lectures, despite the bashing they often take, are an important mechanism for sharing knowledge with trainees. So where do they go? That is where self study comes in.

Most approaches to the flipped classroom retain the lecture, but move it out of the classroom. The instructor, instead of delivering the same lecture over and over again to new groups of trainees, year after year, records it once. Then, as a self study exercise, trainees are required to watch the lecture (usually via on-line learning) prior to the class-based active learning session. This has some very nice aspects to it.

One benefit is that a lot of care can be put into the recording of the lecture. Since the lecture will be used over and over again, there is a lot of incentive to plan it very well and deliver it with care. This will often make the recorded lecture much better than most examples of the live lecture given by the same instructor. Another benefit is that the knowledge learned in the lecture is immediately reinforced  by the class-based active learning session. If these activities are well designed, they require the trainees to utilize the contents of the lecture. This helps to identify gaps in the learning and greatly reinforce the knowledge or skill. It is an obvious learning benefit when recently learned information is "put to the test" almost immediately by having to use it in active learning exercises. This is all very positive and is made possible by self study.


By now, I am hoping that the benefits of self study are evident.  Therefore, I'd like to leave the benefits of self study and move on to some concrete examples of how to implement self study exercises in your training. But given the length of this article, I will leave that topic to the next and final article of this series on self study in maritime training.

If you would like to be notified when that article is ready, and have not already signed up for notifications, please feel free to do so here.

Thank you for reading this article and, as always, I’d love to get your feedback if you have any.

Until the next installment, take care and sail safe!

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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.

Maritime Training: The full library of maritime training articles can be found here.

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.

Maritime Mentoring: International Maritime Mentoring Community - Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor