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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Techniques for the Use of Maritime CBTs in a Learning Management System (LMS)

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on January 20, 2014

This article describes how to maximize learning outcomes, improve training oversight (and insight) and customize training to your own organizational needs by combining the use of CBTs and an LMS. This is an important topic as it leverages the value of maritime CBTs and represents how they will invariably be used (and are now starting to be used) as maritime eLearning matures.

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Techniques for the Use of Maritime CBTs in a Learning Management System (LMS)

This article answers the important question of “how” to use CBTs within an LMS. That is - specifically what techniques can be employed to combine CBTs and an LMS to maximize learning outcomes, to improve training oversight (and insight) and to customize training to your own organizational needs - both efficiently and affordably. This is an important topic as it leverages the value of CBTs and represents how they will invariably be used (and are now starting to be used) as maritime eLearning matures. It is the third article in a series discussing maritime CBTs and learning management systems.

Introduction

It turns out that, in some sense, CBTs and LMSs are made for one another. Each has strengths and limitations which complement one another. The limitations of one are accommodated by the strengths of the other. If you are using an LMS and are struggling to create content, you should look at CBTs. If you are using CBTs and feel that you need more training oversight for continuous improvement or more flexibility and power, you should consider looking at an LMS. The bottom line is that by combining these two types of resources, there are huge advantages for a learning program. I covered these advantages in the second post of this series. If you have not yet seen that article and are interested, it can be found here.

Because of the advantages of using and LMS in combination with CBTs, it should be no surprise that eLearning in other industries has evolved to a state where content (such as CBTs) and delivery platform (the LMS) are used together. To facilitate this, LMSs exist which are able to deliver any CBT from any publisher, so long as the publisher of the CBT allows it. The alternative, of having an LMS restrict you to certain content (or your content restricting you to a particular LMS) would be like buying a DVD player that will only play movies created by one director or produced by one movie studio - far too restrictive. Therefore, in most industries a company will choose an LMS platform, and then populate it with content such as CBTs and custom lessons from a variety of publishers and in-house resources. In this way, an organization is able to take control of their eLearning initiatives and separately choose the platform and content that most closely fulfil their training goals. I covered this topic in the first article of this series. If you have not yet seen that article and are interested, it can be found here.

With this as background, let’s dive into LMS/CBT combination techniques. But I’ll first mention briefly that the next article in this series is going to look at eLearning content more generally - its types, sources, and ideas for how to efficiently build a maritime eLearning content asset. If you have not already signed up for article notifications, but would like to be notified by e-mail when the next (and all subsequent) articles become available, please sign up here. But for now - on to techniques for the combination of CBTs and LMSs.

Using CBTs inside an LMS

Choosing an LMS and CBTs

For most organizations considering the deployment of an LMS, their goals are to unify the training experience (all courses) in one location/platform whether on-shore or on-board, to improve metrics and analysis of the training implementation, and to deliver both generic and company-specific training. These are usually the core considerations, but the truth is that every training provider or vessel operator also has some specific, and often unique, needs to satisfy with respect to functionality, integration, etc. As such, their first step is to choose an LMS that will satisfy their requirements. That is a topic for another article - and since I work for a Maritime LMS provider, it may be a topic that is best left to someone else since anything I say on the subject will be viewed as biased. So I’ll leave it, at least for now. But the point is, choose an LMS that meets your needs - short term and (as best as you can predict them) long term.

Once an LMS is in place, the equally important issue of training content (the courses you deliver) arises. Where does the content come from? There are many good answers to this question - and each organization is likely to utilize multiple sources, in-house and outside, during the evolution of their eLearning implementation. On the one hand, there is a desire to show results by deploying quickly. On the other hand, there is a lot to learn and we all learn from our mistakes (well, most of us do), so it is best to deploy incrementally. In fact, in my experience of having worked with about 4,000 universities and colleges as they deploy eLearning, it is clear to me that implementations are almost always more successful in the long run if their creation is incremental rather than immediate (there are many reasons for this - more on that in the next article). This is where CBTs come in. They often represent high quality learning content that can be deployed quickly for immediate positive effect, and yet still form an important component of your long-term eLearning content offering. Fortunately there are a number of excellent CBT publishers in the maritime industry - some with a wide catalogue of titles and others who specialize in one area or another. An increasing number of these publishers will work with you to allow their CBTs to be played in your chosen LMS (I have mentioned previously our relationship with Seagull which specifically enables this). But the bottom line is that there is a wide variety of very good CBT-based content which can be selected from to accommodate your content needs.

Putting Them Together

So how do we use an LMS together with CBTs? There are two parts I’d like to cover here - the technical aspects of combining an LMS and CBTs, and the learning aspects. Let’s look at the technical aspects first.

The Technical Side

As mariners, you are already very familiar with standards - they abound in the industry, and we are all familiar with the most relevant example here - the STCW. It turns out that the computer industry is no slouch when it comes to standards. For our benefit here, there is a particular set of standards which define what eLearning content looks like. You may be familiar with the primary standard I am referring to - called SCORM - which stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. I, happily, was a very small part of the definition of these standard when, in the late 1990’s, I was asked to advise the people at the IMS Project who began the work which led to these standards.

There are now several versions of the SCORM standard, the most commonly adhered to being SCORM 1.2. The implications of the standard are more important than the implementation details, but to give you something to talk about around the water cooler I’ll mention that SCORM defines:

  • what the learning content can consist of (essentially anything that can be transmitted over the web)
  • how the content is “packaged” so that a publisher can create a course and send it to a training provider who can then install it on their LMS
  • how the content interacts with an LMS

The main implication, of course, is that when the standard is adhered to by both the LMS creator and the content publisher, it makes it possible to use/deliver that content (course) in any LMS - exactly the reason for the existence of the SCORM standards.

There are other implications as well. Rather than desribe them myself, I found a very nice list of implications at the site “SCORM.com”, a subset of which I have reproduced below (the source page can be found here):

  • More places to play the content, and longer life for the content contribute to better returns on investment. This mean that publishers can afford to produce better content.
  • The same standard supports content that is very simple and inexpensive to produce, as well as content with very high production value.
  • SCORM specifies a minimum set of metadata that makes it practical to build catalogs of content, regardless of where the content comes from.
  • Content can be purchased or obtained from the most appropriate source under the most appropriate licensing arrangements, without being tied to a single content provider or authoring tool.
  • You can mix and match content from different sources, without worrying about technical incompatibilities.
  • If things go sour and you have to change [LMS] vendors, you can take your content with you.

So the bottom line is that if you have an LMS which supports SCORM, and a CBT vendor who will deliver their CBT as a SCORM module, you will be able to install the CBT into the LMS - either yourself or with a small bit of help from your LMS provider. Very nice. In this way, it is very easy to establish an eLearning program quickly and effectively. What can often be the expensive and time consuming part - the creation of good learning content, can be bootstrapped by the purchase of a library of well-aligned CBTs.

The Learning Side

So - now you have an LMS and a library of CBTs that can be loaded into the LMS for delivery to your trainees. You could just go right ahead and turn your trainees loose on the courses. If you do that, you are still pretty far ahead. You have good content, reasonable coverage of your (non company-specific) learning goals, and the LMS provides you with important management and measurement functionality. But more than that, what you’ve done is to establish the content and delivery platform enabling standardization and growth. This platform also allows, for a small incremental effort, the ability to improve training outcomes. Here are a two examples.

Assessments

First, one of the limitations of CBTs is that the assessments which accompany them are often static and limited. That is, the same short exam is given to all of your trainees. There are two issues with this. First, trainees will share the answers to the assessments rendering them less useful as a test of knowledge. Second, the assessments in the CBT cannot usually be changed to include company-specific assessment questions. This can be particularly problematic if there are topics which present learning challenges or safety risks in your company. Covering them through additional assessment can be very helpful.

Fortunately, now that your CBT is being delivered in an LMS, there is an opportunity to use the LMS assessment feature to add more comprehensive, company-specific, and randomized assessments to the CBTs. If you do so, the result will be that after the trainee trains using the CBT, he or she is then asked to perform the assessment you have added to the LMS. Each trainee’s questions will consist of a different mix and the exam can be proctored (depending on the LMS), making the sharing of answers far less likely and the results much more reliable. In addition, the questions you have added to the LMS assessment can cover all your company-specific assessment requirements - mitigating any identified training or safety risks.

Even if you use this technique to add assessments to the LMS, there is still a good use for the assessments which come with the CBTs. Those assessments can be used by the trainee as “formative” assessments - essentially self-tests. The trainee can perform the CBT assessment after reviewing the content to determine, for themselves, whether they have absorbed the presented knowledge to a reasonable degree. This can help them highlight gaps in their learning, and fill those gaps before proceeding to the official exam in the LMS. This saves time and money, improves the effectiveness of training, and improves the experience of the trainee. All very positive.

Content

Very similar in nature to the assessment issue above is that of content. CBTs can represent very high-quality maritime training content. However, the content is necessarily generic to the intended audience of the CBT - it is not company specific. On the one hand, this is OK because the generic content is still likely to be of very high utility to its intended audience. However, each vessel operator has its own unique routines, rules, organizational structure, equipment, performance and safety issues. As a result, each has its own company-specific training that needs to be covered for safe and efficient operations. Again, the combination of CBTs and an LMS provides an efficient solution.

Here, the organization can create (or have created for them) the necessary company-specific learnings and use them to supplement the generic training of the CBT. These additional lessons can be delivered by the LMS alongside the CBT - creating a seamless and uniform learning experience for the learners. By starting with the CBT and adding to it in this way, there are many advantages:

  • The CBT provides a way to get the “base” learning content up and available, quickly and inexpensively.
  • The LMS can then be used to build on that material, providing necessary company-specific training “hot topics”, without the expense of having to custom-create the base content.
  • The company-specific learning content can be incrementally added to and improved, eventually leading to a valuable library of company-specific training materials. In addition, these materials can be updated as necessary in response to newly discovered performance issues or safety risks.
  • As the CBT vendor updates and improves their materials, you update the CBTs in your LMS to take advantage of the improved training - without it affecting the investment you’ve made in company-specific content.
  • Depending on the LMS, you may also be able to efficiently create vessel-specific learning modules which are seamlessly integrated into your overall training program (see my previous article on adaptive learning which also appeared in the March 2013 issue of Maritime Reporter and Engineering News). I can’t stress how important this is for efficient performance and improved safety.

Conclusion

The sum of an LMS and CBTs is far more powerful than either alone, and the incremental cost to use both instead of either one alone is comparatively very small. In addition to getting the training program bootstrapped quickly to provide benefit, it also improves trainee experience and training outcomes, and it sets the stage for a future of standardization, uniform access to training, growth and continuous improvement. All this, of course, means improved safety and operational performance.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, the next article in this series is going to look at eLearning content more generally - its types, sources, and ideas for how to efficiently build a maritime eLearning content asset. If you have not already signed up for article notifications, but would like to be notified by e-mail when the next (and all subsequent) articles become available, please sign up here.

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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

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