Where does the popularity of online learning leave our volunteer instructor corps?

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wayne staceyI have written articles concerning the effectiveness of online learning versus the traditional classroom boating safety courses, and that debate continues regarding which of those two methods of delivery is most effective for the student. While the jury may still be out on that question, one recent prediction has recently occurred: Online/Internet-based boating safety courses officially outpaced the number of traditional classroom courses taught for the 2014 year.

Since 2006, the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division, Program Operations Branch has been accurately recording state data as part of the Performance Report Part II form. This form has been the tool for us to capture the numbers of Internet, classroom, and home study certificates earned when students completed approved courses. The “approved” designation means that those courses have successfully completed the conformity assessment process currently performed by NASBLA.

The figure below displays the most recent five years of approved classroom and Internet course completions on an annual basis. As illustrated in the graph, prior to 2014, classroom courses continued to hover slightly above Internet courses.

At the close of the 2014 fiscal year, all 56 states and territories had reported their numbers, which totaled 485,723 boaters who earned a certificate from an approved course. The following is a summary of the 2014 data as reported:

Classroom: 229,751
Home study: 21,785
Internet*: 234,187
TOTAL: 485,723
* Note, this is the first time that Internet-based courses have exceeded classroom courses.

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With the growing popularity of online learning, where does this leave our volunteer instructors? My belief is that many people still prefer the classroom environment for the face-to-face interaction with an instructor. Those people like to have questions answered by a “live body” and to engage in a dialog or discussions about certain maritime subjects. At the same time, online course providers are working hard to more explanation when the student by simply clicks an icon on the screen, though this may or may not be clearly understood by the student.

Regardless of advances in online courses, volunteer instructors will continue to play a vital role in teaching boating safety to the public. There are many specialty courses or advanced boating safety courses offered, such as Coastal Piloting, Coastal Navigation and Using GPS that require a classroom setting with a live instructor. Therefore, I foresee our corps of volunteer boating safety instructors continuing to grow. They are integral to a successful education program. Our nation’s volunteer instructors are committed to training the public to make our waterways a safer place for all to enjoy.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual, as to whether they like or dislike online/Internet-based boating safety courses. They have become a viable method for delivering safety materials to large segments of the boating public. So…classroom or online training…which is the right choice for you?

The Coast Guard reminds boaters:

  • Always wear your life jacket
  • Take a boating safety course
  • Get a vessel safety check
  • Don’t drink and boat

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