Wednesday 18th Jul, 2018

INDUSTRY OPINION: Improving maritime education and training for today’s sophisticated ships

Australian Maritime College
Australian Maritime College

Dr Gholam Reza Emad*

APPRENTICESHIP training on board ships is a mandatory component of seafarers training scheme. Traditionally, seafarers develop best part of their disciplinary knowledge and competencies by means of apprenticeship and workplace learning through legitimate participation at work on board ships.

A significant feature of the traditional apprenticeship is the availability of the process of performing a task for the apprentices to observe.

There is a transparent relationship between a skill, its use, and the outcome of its application. In the work environment the apprenticship process makes it easy for seafaring trainees to learn the required skill by observation of application of skills by expert crewmemebrs.

At the the same time the expert is able to monitor the trainee’s application of the skill and to observe and diagnose if there is any error in understanding of the task or the application of the skill by the future seafarer.

In recent decades, ships have undergone numerous changes. These changes are primarily due to the introduction of new technologies on board ships. Use of technology same as performing higher-order cognitive skills, are some tasks that are more internalized and do not leave visible clues. Thus a significant feature of the new technological worklaces is the invisibility of its work procedures and the mental processes of its operator while working with the instruments.

As the result, the influx of high technology and rapidly changing work environment onboard ships seems, to some extent, preclude many traditional and authentic opportunities that exist in apprenticeship activities.

Hence, the apprenticeship system and on-the-job training alone are unable to fulfill the training requirements of the newcomers in the maritime technological workplaces. This implies that technology education has to rely on the training institutes to provide the practitioners of the new workplaces with the competencies they need.

Currently, technology education is integrated into conventional maritime education and training systems and treated the same.

Furthermore, the introduction of new technologies demands education to take a new direction, which needs to be vastly different from the current view of education that pervades the culture of schooling. There is a need for a novel epistemological approach to education to accommodate the learning needs of current and future ship board technological environments. Consequently, new learning and curriculum theories need to be applied to the current maritime vocational education and training system to adapt it to the novel context.

To solve the problem and based on my extensive research in the filed of maritime education and training I have developed the concept of quasi-community. The idea of quasi-community constitutes a framework for theorizing knowing and learning in maritime vocational education that may address the problems (Emad and Roth, 2016). In the folowing, I briefly feature some of the elements of the quasi-community that are relevant to technology education in formal maritime education.

Quasi-community as a novel framework for training seafarers

Socio-cognitive theories such as communities of practice, provide insights into the elements of traditional apprenticeship and the processes of workplace authentic learning.

In recent decades, these principles of learning processes in their natural settings have inspired educational researchers to develop conceptual frameworks for theorizing learning in formal educational settings

Unfortunately, current theories tend to overlook the needs and characteristics of adults and vocational practitioners such as seafarers when engaged in formal learning.

Seafarers as adult learners attend schools to achieve specific objectives, which allows them to have a greater control over their lives. They are motivated to learn when they realize that learning will enable them to solve problems and perform tasks that they confront in their everyday life activities.

Adult learners are problem-centered and interested in relevancy and immediate application of the knowledge they are learning. The concept of quasi-community address these characteristics in the educational domain as a theoretical framework for understanding maritime practitioners’ learning.

One of the highlights of the quasi-community is the absence of hierarchy between teacher and learners. Here expertise is dynamic and distributed among classroom members.

Any student has the possibility to be the teacher at any time when he or she can provide the expertise needed to solve the problem at hand.

In the quasi-community classroom, the teacher is a manager, facilitator, and resource, who coordinates the activities and leads the classroom community members toward their objectives.

The objectives of the community is a product of negotiation between its members (course participants and the teacher). In the quasi-community, the objectives reflect the members’ needs and the goals they want to achieve.

As a result, the objectives of course mirror the students’ common objectives which usually is gaining competencies relevant to their technological workplace. This will promote internal motivation for the participants to get engaged and learn as they realize that their objectives are going to be met in the pedagogy.

Collective approach to learning

Quasi-community is based on the premise that learning is a social phenomenon and may be realized through collectivity. The students take part in activities as groups and are encouraged to establish efficient communication and productive collaboration. The course participatory pedagogy includs groupwork and collaboration of all the members of the class.

Learning time-space

A pedagogy based on the quasi-community regularly provide the participants with open and informal non-teaching time-spaces by assigning some part of the everyday schedule as non-teaching sessions. In these periods, the course participants are given time, resources, and space to manage the development of their assigned competencies. They will have full access to the technical resources including software, simulators, electronic equipments, Internet resources, and the teacher. The possibility of personal selection of resources and method for each learner will provide opportunity for their possible demand of varied learning styles to be met. These time slots normaly becomes the most engaging periods of the participants’ academic life.

Participation in the pedagogy

Providing opportunities for the seafarer students to collaborate in their teaching and learning processes will motivate them and stimulate their participation. The pedagogy of the quasi-community is co-produced and performed by participation of the entire community. This pedagogy promotes the dynamic participation of the seafaring students in their own learning. It can partly realize in the contribution of all the students in the teaching practice.

Taking responsibility and ownership

The quasi-community encourages the students to take responsibility of their own learning. The students have the opportunity to decide the pace of their own learning.

When a student is convinced that he or she has achieved the comptency in a task, then the student will demonstrate the competency to the teacher by performing the task and if succesful move to the next objectives. This type of practice contributes to the authenticity of the assessment process where students are evaluated whenever they feel they have developed the required competencies. It also allows assessing the students’ competency based on their ability to perform the job rather than to describe their skills in a written exam.

Technology a resource for learning technology – making practice visible

In recent years the ability of simulation technology to replicate the technological workplace of ships for training purposes has afforded boundless possibilities for providing an effective and meaningful learning environment at maritime schools.

In this type of environment, seafarers are able to interact with the technology in a replicated ship environment. The pedagogy based on the concept of quasi-community capitalized the simulation technology as a valuable resource to facilitate, make visible, and bring into open the processes of work for the course participants.

The affordability of the technology to record and subsequently replay the exercises and students’ performance in the debriefing sessions can augment the learning outcomes of the course.

The debriefing sessions following the simulated exercises will provide possibilities for the seafarers to reflect on their proficiency. The process also allows the other students to be able to observe and compare their own performances and strategies with their peers.

Workplace visits complement the simulation training as it provides the possibilities for the course participants to contextualize their competencies for real work environments.

Placing field trips and workplace visits as an essential element in the pedagogy motivates the participants and appropriates the authentic learning by providing a bridge between real-world experience and the experiences at school.


I conclude that maritime technological pedagogy using the concept of quasi-community has the ability to re-contextualize the field of practice and translate it into curriculum. As a result, disciplinary knowledge makes meaning to the seafarer trainees.

Quasi-community provides possibilities for seafaring learners to develop disciplinary knowledge and technological expertise in the context of on board ships. This allows seafarers’ facilitated transformation of knowledge and expertise into applied competency when they cross boundaries from maritime colleges to their ships.

From the print edition August 31, 2017

* Dr Emad is a senior lecturer at the Australian Maritime College, University of Tasmania

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