Given the recent focus on distance learning following the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting confinement measures, e-learning solutions for road transport professionals are key.
To understand what the future of distance learning holds for commercial transport, IRU interviewed several of its members providing e-training to professional drivers, about their experiences.
Part I: we speak to Hans Dewit, Director at the Belgian Bus and Coach Training Center (FCBO) and Attaché at the Social Fund for Bus and Coach.
FCBO, an IRU Academy Associate Training Institute (ATI) is the main training institute for bus and coach drivers who are working in private companies in Belgium. It is mainly active in the field of periodic training and it delivers approximately 10,000 certificates every year. FCBO offers 16 different training programmes, including theoretical and practical, in a high-end driving simulator and on the road.
Hans Dewit has been working in the bus and coach industry since 2001. As part of his job, he is closely involved in the initial and periodic training of drivers.
IRU: In Belgium, unemployed people aspiring to become professional drivers can already complete the initial training requirements online. Can you tell us more about it?
Hans Dewit: When transposing the EU Directive on driver training, Belgium opted for the “test only” option for initial training. As a result, training centres are free to decide how to offer preparatory training. Two years ago, VDAB (the national employment agency) introduced e-learning. Theoretical training that used to take place in a classroom over six days is now done completely online – including driving theory, practice exercises and mock exams. Participants are given one month to prepare online for the official theory test at their own pace. A web instructor monitors their progress, answers any questions, and proactively offers support to participants lagging behind. Short complementary face-to-face workshops are organised on specific issues, if needed.
The EU Directive 2018/645 paves the way towards implementing distance learning for a different audience, namely experienced drivers taking periodical training. Can the same solutions be applied or does this audience have different requirements?
I think that e-learning modules for certain topics during periodic training could be highly effective. The modules should, in my opinion, concentrate on exercises with automated feedback. For instance, operating digital tachographs is still a challenge for many drivers. Today, this is something that could easily be taught online with a simulator.
Do you plan to use distance learning both for initial qualification and periodic training? If so, how?
Besides Flanders, all the other competent regional authorities have yet to authorise distance learning. However, in my opinion, the question is not if, but when. Too many in-person training courses contain too much theory. We should focus more on learning by doing in those sessions and use e-learning to fulfil the theoretical knowledge requirements instead.
In your opinion, what are the main benefits of introducing Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools in driver training, compared to traditional instructor-led training?
In a classroom environment, it is difficult to keep every participant involved. In contrast, e-learning (including exercises and questions) requires each participant’s active engagement.
Another important benefit is that distance learning can help mitigate the shortage of trainers we are currently experiencing.
How do you think your stakeholders, the transport operators and drivers, will welcome this new training format?
More and more people, as well as an increasing number of industries, are using the Internet to learn new things. Especially for younger people, online learning comes naturally. Why should our industry lag behind? We need more young people, and we will certainly not attract them by sticking to traditional training formats. Modern ways of training should be applied in those areas where they give added value.
The EU Directive 2018/645 states that: “specific topics require hands-on training”, but ICT tools actually allow for increasingly realistic simulations. What are the current limits of ICT tools in your opinion?
For eco-driving and defensive driving, we are combining more and more training on a real vehicle with that on a simulator. The simulator does not replace real-life driving, but it complements it effectively. Some other topics like communication, ergonomics, firefighting or first aid also require hands-on training, but even then the use of ICT tools – be it driving simulators or e-learning, can and do provide additional value.
How do you see the future of distance learning in our industry?
I am convinced that distance learning will emerge in our industry. I also think that it is a necessity. It can improve training effectiveness on certain topics. It can help training institutes to answer a growing demand for training. Last but not least, this kind of training is considered the norm for young people, so it forms a vital part of the solution in terms of attracting younger recruits to the profession.