Training Forecast: Short Waves Of Terror In A Vast Sea Of Boredom

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Watch Officer Daniel Sullivan takes a bearing of a surface contact in a congested waterway. Photo by Petty Officer Prince Hughes

[su_pullquote align=”right” class=””]Could a new system of training prevent incidents by teaching watch officers how to achieve a state of  flow?[/su_pullquote]

By Jaquelyn Burton (Coeval) – Land, a line on the radar, a steady light off the port bow. Only the radar doesn’t match the chart or compass bearing. Something is off. Drawing closer, but still miles away you see fishing boats, hundreds of fishing boats. At this moment you must act. You must set a course, evaluate your circumstances, and take action.

It would be better if you had seen this before in a safe place (e.g. in a simulator or game) where you can reset and try again. Too often this scenario is encountered for the first time during a real watch at sea in the South China Sea – by a newly minted third mate.

Experienced officers have seen this scenario many times, we know, almost instinctively what actions to take, prudence above hesitation. These are the moments good watch standers enter the zone, a state of flow where you feel confident knowing what steps to take at that moment, almost as if seeing the situation unfolding outside of yourself.

In that space, in flow, there is no question as to the actions that you need to make. You do not over think the problem. Your training and knowledge guide you without pause because hesitation could mean disaster.

As Mariners, we avoid these situations like a sea monster with the plague. We evaluate the problems before us, avoid tense situations, maintain composure and control, and we calculate risk. Unfortunately, by training in lecture-based format, we inhibit these natural human abilities and capacities. 

According to Laurence Steinberg in Beyond the Classroom “an extremely large proportion of students — somewhere around 40 percent … when they are in class, they are neither trying very hard nor paying attention.” This is true of high school students and it’s true for adults taking a week-long training class during their vacation! How many of the adults taking refresher training courses, as Gad Yair puts it, are “physically present but psychologically absent?” How many allow ineffective training inflict them with the false  illusion of experience?

Many interesting studies and books are being published about this phenomenon of the mind. The work being done at the flow genome project is exciting because it can be applied to the realm of training in general and the maritime industry in particular.

As mariners, we experience “months of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.” Most of the time everything goes fine – our training is for those other moments. The moments that can happen to any of us, the ones that stand between us and disaster.

This is why training needs to include challenges, games, experimentation, and discussion… as opposed to a lecture and multiple choice question format.

For a mate to recall training at a critical moment, training needs to be fully ingrained in the mind of the student. Learning takes place in the processing of information – through the total comprehension and ability to reform that information. Nothing is learned truly before the student can teach it to someone else.

So, how can we ensure the courses we make, the training we give, and teaching we do results in real learning? How can we design for maximum involvement, for engagement, for flow?

We need to develop training courses and curriculum that causes experiences that Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance calls “those moments of total absorption, when we’re so sucked in by the task at hand that time seems to either slow down or speed up.” We need training that encourages flow. Engrossing, interactive training replete with gameplay, fun and challenges. Training that makes you solve the kinds of problems that you might face at sea. The problems that can have multiple good answers but no “right” answer. Difficult problems with potentially disastrous outcomes.

According to How Computer Games Help Children Learn by D. Shaffer “video games have the advantage of placing students in simulated environments where they face authentic, open-ended challenges similar in nature to those faced by real-world professionals, making similar professional judgments without the real-world risks.”

The challenge comes in developing that type of training… training that is dynamic, highly efficient and memorable. That training is not being done yet in the maritime industry nor industrial settings. I see it as the future. It will only come about as we work towards it together, making a higher standard of training, through engagement, instruction, simulation and play.

There will always be new challenges ahead and we must be adaptable to the ever-shifting seas. Find out more about us at Coeval.us training for the #modernmariner.