Does e-Learning Work?

By Pek Murray Goldberg
Thursday, May 15, 2014

It’s time to put that question behind us.  

Once a question has been carefully analyzed and a reliable answer has been found, it is time to use this new knowledge to help answer the next series of important questions. This is the current situation in some parts of the maritime industry surrounding the question of whether eLearning works.
To illustrate, some months ago there was a familiar discussion on an online maritime group debating whether eLearning works. Arguments on both sides cited anecdotes and conjecture on topics for which we already have solid answers informed by real research. This highlights the need to broadly disseminate what is already known about this question. Therefore, this article provides some of the most compelling evidence on the question of whether eLearning works in the maritime industry. This knowledge can then be used to contribute to the discussion of other pressing, yet unanswered, maritime training questions such as how to cross cultural and language barriers in training, how to raise the standards of all maritime training without increasing costs, and how to support a culture of safety through attention to training.

The Quick Answer
We will cover the evidence in a moment, but first let me clearly state the answer to the question, “Does eLearning work”? The answer is an unequivocal “YES”. But as with any complex topic, there are many parts to that answer. So here are a few quick, but very important, considerations.

Not All eLearning Experiences are Equal
Neither are all classroom experiences. There are excellent and poor examples of both online and classroom-based training. We don’t abandon the classroom just because we had a terrible instructor once. Likewise, we should not abandon eLearning just because we have encountered poor implementations (of which there are many). So when considering the question of whether eLearning works, we are comparing offerings of roughly equal quality.

The Difference Between Knowledge & Skills
Maritime industry workers require both knowledge and skills to do their jobs safely and efficiently. It is important to realize that effective training techniques for knowledge are not the same as those for skills. Having said that, keep in mind that all skills are built on a foundation of knowledge. Therefore even if you believe you are only teaching a skill, there is always a strong knowledge component to that training. So both must always be considered.

Blended is Best for Knowledge
The evidence will be presented below, but here is the quick fact. All else being equal, when comparing online learning with classroom-based learning, they come out roughly equal for teaching knowledge, with eLearning offering a slight advantage. Yes, this is surprising, but it is a fact.  More importantly, if you combine online and face-to-face training (a technique called “blended learning”), you get significantly better training outcomes than by employing either online or face-to-face training alone. This is very important as it gives us an opportunity to make real training improvements that were simply not available to us 10 years ago.

No Replacement for Hands On Training
This is one of the most common arguments I hear against online learning. I believe that the statement is completely true, but it is in no way an argument against on-line learning. Hands-on training for skills provides the context, experience, environment and tactile feedback that a simulation will approach, but never fully match. However, simulations will provide variety in, and control of, the training scenario that hands-on training can never match. Each approach offers something the other one does not. Therefore in this case we can use multiple, complementary training approaches to yield excellent results - better than either one approach can produce alone.

Technology Offers Unique Benefits
In addition to improving training outcomes, adding a technology component to your training yields benefits not available otherwise.
For example, eLearning systems are excellent providers of deep learning metrics and analytics. This is real-time data about how well your trainees are performing and where the gaps are. This allows you to continuously improve training at your organization and close gaps in training outcomes before they become safety or performance issues.
Another example is how technology can bring training to the trainee. This has the effect of improving access to training, bringing it to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
Technology also supports more flexible training delivery models. A very common and highly effective approach is to have trainees pre-train using eLearning, and then converge afterward at a central location for a shorter and more effective face-to-face experience.
These are some of the quick facts. Let’s look at the hard evidence now.

The Evidence
Arguably the best evidence of eLearning effectiveness is a report published in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE). The report is entitled “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies”. The strength of this report comes from the fact that it is a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis looks at a large number of independent studies and draws a conclusion based on the strength of this large collection. This is powerful because the biases or flaws of individual studies are quickly filtered out of the collective response.
In the case of the U.S. DOE study, the meta-analysis looked at roughly 1,000 research studies, and then filtered them down to 45 which met rigorous design standards. From these studies the analysis came to several conclusions. Let’s look at some of the most notable quotes from this study:

Conclusion Number 1
Online Learning Outperforms
Face-to-Face Learning:

U.S. DOE Quote: “Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning  the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction. Learning outcomes for students who engaged in online learning exceeded those of students receiving face-to-face instruction.”
The difference in effectiveness measured between online and face-to-face instruction was quite small, but it exists with the win going to online learning. From this we can say unequivocally that online learning most certainly does not produce inferior outcomes when compared to face-to-face instruction, as many incorrectly believe. In fairness, however, until I performed my own studies on eLearning effectiveness as a university researcher in the 1990s, I also assumed that eLearning would be inferior. I was wrong.

Conclusion Number 2
Blended Learning is Best:
U.S. DOE Quote: “Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.“
The conclusion above indicates that when you use a combination of on-line and face-to-face training (referred to as “blended learning”), the learning outcomes are better than for either face-to-face or eLearning alone. This makes intuitive sense because each mode of learning has strengths the other one cannot offer. The implications are clear. If your goal is to provide the very best training possible, you should use a combined approach involving both face-to-face training and online learning.

Conclusion Number 3
Interaction with Peers and/or Instructors Improves Learning Outcomes:
U.S. DOE Quote: “Effect sizes [i.e. the improvement in learning outcomes] were larger for studies in which the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-directed than in those studies where online learners worked independently.”
This is a very important conclusion which cannot be stressed enough. One of the major advantages of online learning is its ability to connect people to one another, allowing them to learn from one another in a way that face-to-face training can’t. While it is indeed possible and effective for trainees to learn online independently, the best outcomes are achieved when we use technology to connect people to further facilitate the learning process.

Conclusion Number 4:
eLearning Works, Regardless
of the Subject Matter:

U.S. DOE Quote: “The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.”
eLearning has been around long enough and studied long enough that we can safely conclude that it is effective for all kinds of knowledge acquisition. There is nothing about maritime knowledge or maritime learners that makes the field immune to the benefits of eLearning. That is not to say that there are no hurdles to overcome in maritime eLearning - there are. For example, the availability of internet on-board, and the sophistication of vessel-based training both have slowed the adoption of eLearning in the industry. However, those obstacles are being (and have been) largely overcome by maritime-specific learning management systems (LMSs) and the industry is following suit by adopting eLearning methods. This study makes it clear that the benefits of eLearning are not domain-specific.
eLearning works. It has strengths which create an opportunity to do better than we do now. It is not a replacement for face to face or hands-on training,  that is the wrong discussion to be having because we already know the answer. The real discussion is about how we apply the strengths and advantages that eLearning brings to an industry that is in desperate need of better (not more) training, more uniform training, and an elevated discussion on what we can do to achieve these.

The Author
Pek Murray Goldberg is CEO of Marine Learning Systems ( An eLearning researcher and developer, his software has been used by 14 million people worldwide.

(As published in the May 2014 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News -

Maritime Today

The Maritime Industry's original and most viewed E-News Service

Maritime Reporter July 2016 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Marine Electronics

B&G Software Upgrade for Zeus2 and Vulcan Chartplotter

B&G, the world’s leading sailing navigation and instrument specialist has upgraded its latest software for the full range of Zeus2 and Vulcan chartplotters. The

KVH Promotes Bruun to COO

KVH Industries has  announced  that Brent Bruun, currently executive vice president of mobile broadband for the company, has been promoted to the newly created

Vesper Marine to Protect LIS Underwater Cables

Vesper Marine announced that it has provided its virtual Automatic Identification System (AIS) to New York Power Authority (NYPA) to protect submerged power cables in Long Island Sound.


Mariners Attend SUNY Maritime for Gap-closing Courses

More professional mariners than ever are coming to SUNY Maritime College for training and courses to maintain their credentials and endorsements, the college reports.

Two DNV GL Approvals for GTT Training Software

GTT Training, a GTT subsidiary dedicated to training liquefied natural gas (LNG) professionals and to the development of associated simulation tools, has obtained

TCM Implements Seagull's Competence Manager

Tsakos Columbia Shipmanagement (“TCM”) S.A. has strengthened its collaboration with Seagull Maritime AS to bring its in-house ‘Tanker Competence and Promotion Management


B&G Software Upgrade for Zeus2 and Vulcan Chartplotter

B&G, the world’s leading sailing navigation and instrument specialist has upgraded its latest software for the full range of Zeus2 and Vulcan chartplotters. The

Vesper Marine to Protect LIS Underwater Cables

Vesper Marine announced that it has provided its virtual Automatic Identification System (AIS) to New York Power Authority (NYPA) to protect submerged power cables in Long Island Sound.

Carnival Opens High-tech Training Center

Carnival Corporation & plc today announced the official opening of its Arison Maritime Center, a world-class facility dedicated to providing safety training for

Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Standards Pod Propulsion Port Authority Salvage Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.0895 sec (11 req/sec)