Mailport: July 2010
Online Captains School
I noticed that the survey on the Practical Sailor website (www.practical-sailor.com) was soliciting responses only for "online" courses. You might have noticed that there are only a handful of schools that offer online courses.
As president of World Wide Marine Training Inc. (www.wegivethetest.com), I have decided not to enter that market. I could easily add to my bottom line by offering online courses; however, it is my opinion that online courses lower maritime educational standards, and that keeps me out of the market.
Sailing and motoring involve numerous practical skills. I feel that online courses are not an effective way to educate mariners.
Without mentioning names or schools, I would like to tell you what I have learned from mariners and my own students about the online courses: Most of the online students have told me that upon examination, they had previously had "most" or "all" of their exam questions as practice questions. Most of these students also told me that they lacked a practical understanding of many concepts. They all expressed the desire to have a better understanding of the topics.
These are some of the critical elements missing from online courses: In front of a class, teachers can tell by students’ facial expressions when they do not understand something. When a student asks a question for clarification, his/her fellow students benefit from hearing the question and the answer. When a student shares an experience with the class, the comments give rise to more questions and comments. As students hear many voices and approaches on a topic from fellow students, it facilitates a more complete understanding of the topic. We do not use "practice questions" for review as the online courses do.
These are just a few things that may be of interest to you in the event that you are inclined to explore the issue of online course’s effectiveness. I believe it is an analysis worth presenting.
Capt. Larry Walker, President
World Wide Marine Training Inc.
You make excellent points, and the owners of both of the online programs we review this month emphasized that an online format is not for everyone. Some of the most highly regarded educational theorists—John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, and Jean Piaget to name a few—have strong arguments that learning, as you point out, is a social process, and this is the basis for the American public school system. The asynchronous online "discussions" are no substitute for a dynamic classroom engagement, and certainly a video can’t replace time at the helm. Nevertheless, many studies show that learning does happen online, and educators are getting better at refining online strategies.
It is interesting to note that hybrid online/classroom programs tend to be less effective than straight online or straight classroom courses. Like any teaching approach, effectiveness of online programs will vary. If you never did your homework, you might not be the best candidate for a self-paced online program today. If you can’t get away from work, are handicapped, shy, or are stationed abroad, the online environment is a lifeline. It’s worth noting that the University of Phoenix, a predominantly online school with more than 250,000 students, is now the world’s largest "university." Arguments over the value of these and other online courses rage, but online learning is here to stay. We’ll be looking at classroom and on-the-water captain’s programs in a future issue.
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