IRU: The future of distance learning in road transport

Barcelona, May 27, 2020.- IRU is the world’s road transport organisation. We represent the entire industry – bus, coach, truck and taxi, and drive the sustainable mobility of people and goods across the planet. This organization has just published some interviews on online training in ground transportation. Recycling of supply chain professionals is vital in today’s economic uncertainty. For this reason, we publish this IRU report.

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.

In the second part of IRU’s interviews with members about the future of distance learning in commercial transport, we talk to Peter Hari, responsible for dangerous goods and safety at ASTAG, the Swiss Road Transport Association. ASTAG upholds the interests of some 4,300 road transport operators in Switzerland. The Association has recently launched an e-learning pilot to enable drivers to combine online and physical training.

IRU: In your opinion, what are the main benefits of introducing Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools in driver training, compared to traditional instructor-led training?

Peter Hari: The benefits for employers are numerous: better qualified employees, less effort required in organising training, lower training costs, having an overview of the learning status of employees, easier personnel management and shorter absences from the workplace, to mention but a few.

Course participants similarly benefit from this learning style. First and foremost, they are able to study independent of time and place and at their own speed.

The financial benefit of e-learning should also not be overlooked. It offers a cost advantage of up to 38% compared to conventional courses.

How have your clients, the transport operators and drivers, welcomed this new training format?

The demand for e-learning has risen sharply in the last three years, and will continue to increase as a result of how well online training has performed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Larger companies in particular are interested in our e-learning platform: it can be used for driver training as well as for general information. All their training needs can be met in one place.

ASTAG have been running an e-learning pilot. Can you tell us more about the pilot?

ASTAG has been offering training courses for 40 years. Nowadays, information is easily available via smartphones, tablets and notebooks. We launched the e-learning pilot as a way of tapping into that change in learning styles and making our training modules more flexible. The e-learning pilot works alongside face-to-face teaching to increase overall learning success.

Thanks to online learning, employers can benefit from reduced administrative costs and can concentrate on operational core competencies.

As there is no legal basis for e-learning in compulsory driver training and further education yet in Switzerland, the ASTAG e-learning project is currently running as a pilot. However, the training courses can be credited towards compulsory periodical training.

The EU Directive states that “specific topics require hands-on training”, but ICT tools allow for increasingly realistic simulations. What are the current limits of distance learning?

For some topics, ICT tools are not yet able to replace hands-on learning – that said, e-learning still has a key role to play. For example, in the drive and rest time module, interactive online exercises are used to apply the content learned in the classroom, and classroom instruction applies the lessons learned via e-learning. Participants’ knowledge is then tested with a series of self-assessments, followed by a final test. This combination of learning methods is rated very positively among participants.

How do you see the future of distance learning in our industry?

The acceptance of e-learning is already high among companies and drivers, even among older course participants. In the younger generation, digital media are already part of everyday life. However, ASTAG is aware that personal contact, sharing experiences, and practical work are key success factors in further training, which, as we have been able to demonstrate, can be sensibly combined with e-learning.

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