Training & Education: NOAA Computerized Training to Unify, Save Money

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

When it comes to rolling out training to vessel crew and scientists, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) faces challenges similar to most other large fleets deployed within the waterways, coastal and offshore regions of the United States. These challenges include a geographically dispersed trainees and little time available in a busy work schedule to take time out for full day training sessions. In addition, while on leave crew and scientists want to be able to enjoy their time away from work with family and friends rather than attend classroom training to update qualifications or skills.

NOAA operates and maintains the largest fleet of non-military research and survey ships operated by a federal agency. NOAA personnel are spread from Hawaii to Alaska and the west coast, and from the eastern seaboard down into the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA's Marine Operations Center manages 17 ships from seven port offices and marine centers located around the country. The fleet's mission is to provide platforms to chart the nation's coastal waters and support oceanic, atmospheric, fisheries and environmental research. NOAA's vision is to make continuous learning a priority for the more than 350 crew and officers, and the thousands of scientists who sail on NOAA ships each year.

The cost of mounting a nation-wide training initiative is significant, so in the fall of 1999 NOAA went looking for a solution that would ensure quality results and address the practical requirements of the trainees in a cost effective manner. The solution implemented was a "blended learning" system combining classroom instruction with the flexibility and cost benefits of computer-based training. NOAA chose to work with Seagull Maritime Information Technology Inc. (ex-MGI International) who developed and implemented an internet-based learning management system to administrate and deliver the online-training courses. The self-study CBT courses are completed by trainees in a lab, at one's workstation or onboard the vessels and are supported by practical instruction provided by local training providers selected in various regions. The Chesapeake Marine Training Institute in Norfolk, Virginia was selected to provide the practical component of the training and Harbor Light in Seattle provided practical training for NOAA personnel in the Pacific.

The first phase of the training was rolled out in 2000/01 as Seagull worked with NOAA to set up and link the training labs by local area network (LAN) which provided constant and secure connections to the CBT courses for trainees. Internet access to the same training materials was next deployed. Trainees can access training at their convenience and NOAA can effectively track and monitor their progress. NOAA continues to upgrade and develop this learning portal and added Seagull's Ship Security Officer training course to the online curriculum, which will ensure timely and cost effective compliance to the upcoming ISPS Security Code deadlines.

Comments from NOAA personnel on this blended learning approach have been positive. Robert Carter, a NOAA training attendee had the following to say: "The Computer Based Training (CBT) portion of the course is great. I was impressed with the graphics and video presentations used to show examples of the procedures. I was able to learn at my own pace without the distractions of a group-learning environment. I completed the practical portion of the course at Pacific Marine Center Seattle where we spent half a day completing the practical first aid portion. The water survival practical was held at an indoor facility in Edmonds, Washington about 15 miles north of Seattle. The fire fighting practical was held at the Washington State Fire fighting facility. It was a full day of excellent training covering all aspects of shipboard fire fighting. Being prior military I have been through a lot of this type of training, but I was very impressed with the quality of training we received." The benefits reaped by NOAA from this blended learning portal approach include the following: an increase in training throughput with no increase in NOAA's training budget, convenient and self-paced training for crew and scientists, partnerships with local training providers for practical training and personalized assessments, efficient administration and monitoring of training through internet-based tools and database functionality which provides up-to-the-minutes statistics. Doug Friske of NOAA estimates that the cost savings have been notable. "For Basic Safety Training (BST), I think we can easily say that we have halved the cost of a typical one week training program at a certified STCW training facility. By training in the computer rooms with our own centers in conjunction with local providers of practical training we've had saving through a reduction in air and car travel, hotel and other expenses. Costs have been reduced to one quarter for the training that we do on with a web CBT for NOAA scientists throughout the country. Our BST course is the same information content online as in the one week classroom course."

According to Doug Friske, NOAA is happy with the approach taken and the supplier selected. "Seagull has provided a highly responsive management and technical team with training products that our employees can readily utilize at our centers and onboard ship. Quality of life concerns are important to our shipboard employees and NOAA shoreside management. We understand how important it is to be close to home with family and friends during our limited in-port periods. Seagull has been very instrumental in meeting this need and assisting us in meeting our goals of being voluntarily complaint with the ISM Code and the many STCW training requirements."

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