Seafarer education: Learning with digital technologies

The emergence of digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is changing the maritime education and training (MET) industry.  MET institutions have now more tools to be flexible and innovative in educating students and are now not constrained by physical spaces. 

Schools have been adopting VR, AR and mixed reality to make lessons more immersive such as going for virtual field trips.  AI has been able to provide a personalised learning experience for students through understanding their strength and weakness.

With AI, AR and VR, education is now more accessible and learner-centric, and there is more immersive learning experience and better knowledge retention.

Historically, seafarers have obtained their ongoing professional development training by flying to education hubs like Singapore, Copenhagen or Seoul to attend courses at a maritime academy.

However, compared to online learning, this method is more expensive and inefficient.  The students will also have to train on equipment and simulators that are often older and smaller than those on actual ships at sea.

Moreover, in a pandemic-stricken world, it is also unsafe for large groups of people to gather, because of the risk of infection, and impractical too, because there are still tight border controls in some countries.

The emergence of digital technologies is a blessing to the maritime industry. For example, seafarer trainees can use VR headsets and learn from the comfort of their own rooms.  They would be able to take their time to understand the various functions and parts of ships without competing with other trainees to use the simulators unlike in a physical class.

VR in the classrooms

Research by Buenaobra et al. from Seaversity, Phillipines showed the positive impact and effectiveness of VR on MET.

Two classes of first year Bachelor of Science Marine Transportation (BS MT) students from Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) were screened and selected for the study. Class A was assigned to undergo the VR-based type of teaching while Class B, the control group, was assigned to undergo the traditional type of teaching.

The two groups then underwent a diagnostic test and an assessment test.  The mean score of students from the VR-based teaching was 20.84 percent while the mean score of students from the traditional teaching was 10.44 percent.

Among other benefits, VR helps students to better visualize and familiarize with ship’s parts. To gain mastery of the ship’s parts, students must be able to visualize the parts as they appear in the actual engine, which VR can successfully replicate, complete with dimensions, functions and dynamics based on real-life scenarios.

The primary advantage of VR-based teaching which emerged in the study is the ability of VR to engage the learners while infusing fun and excitement, and to provide them an immersive experience which generally makes retention easier. The majority of students reported that if given the option, they would utilize and recommend VR in their education and training.

Overall, students reported positive experiences, specifically citing the realism that the VR head gears were able to replicate in the virtual environment. The study also found that simulation technology in education and training can deliver the desired competency among seafarers while providing a safe learning environment.

Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA)

SMA, which offers diploma courses in marine engineering, maritime business and nautical studies, as well as professional courses for deck and engineering officers, is using VR in its pedagogy.

In his welcome message for the Freshman Orientation Programme 2020 , Captain Mohd Salleh Bin Ahmad Sarwan, Director for School of SMA, said: “Our lecturers will bring into the classroom their vast industry experience and technical expertise while lessons are conducted in facilities ranging from the Maritime Business Centre, state-of-the-art navigation simulators, a full mission engine room simulator as well as SMA latest addition, the Advanced Engine Room Simulator using virtual technology.

“We infuse innovation into our teaching and learning, and use the latest digital tools such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to prepare you for the workplace of the future.”

Advanced Navigation Research Simulator (ANRS)

The ANRS is a ship-handling simulator jointly developed in partnership by the SMA, Centre of Excellence for Maritime Safety (CEMS) and Kongsberg Maritime.

The ANRS can stimulate the whole operational environment including advanced operations and pilot training in restricted waters.  Other than the full mission bridge, it also has a traffic service system that replicates real-life conditions, allowing trainees to practise and be assessed without having to go out to sea.  It is the first of such equipment in South-east Asia.

The ANRS combines simulated training with artificial intelligence, which interprets intricate data collected by sensors such as glasses that track users’ eye movement and headbands that register electrical brain activity. Developers hope the simulator will lead to better training programs that can reduce the frequency of maritime incidents caused by human error.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat said at the 11th Singapore Maritime Institute forum that he believed advancements in AI to be one of the frontiers in a time of rapid innovation and added that as borders reopen and cross-country interactions increase, the ANRS can also be used to train seafarers from the region.

The uses of digital technologies such as VR, AR and AI in education may have a small market share now but they have considerable growth potential, especially in the maritime education industry. Live, online and interactive digital technologies are delivering quality content today, and the technologies will only continue to improve, and becoming ever more realistic and immersive. 

Photo credit: iStock/af_istocker

Jessica Loh

Jessica Loh

Jessica is a maritime student who is currently navigating her way through the industry.

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