Already have an account?

Passive vs. active course material

An active approach to fuel efficiency training

Mark Murrell

The other day, somebody asked me a question that opened a whole can of worms. The question was a pretty simple one about why we build our courses the way we do, but it kicked off a much longer discussion about education theory, and passive vs. active learning. All of that led into a whole other discussion about best practices for fuel efficiency training, and how all those pieces fit together, so I'm sure you can appreciate that this was a deep dive into education geekdom!

Since I haven't written about much those two areas in this column, I thought I'd share a condensed version of it here. Don't worry, I'll spare you (most of) the geekspeak!

Passive and Active Learning

As a quick refresher, passive learning is any experience in which the learner is primarily a receiver of the content, without much (perhaps any) say in the structure, pacing, or overall experience. The traditional lecture-based education model is a good example of this approach, and while it's been used for thousands of years, passive learning has major limitations.

One of the main problems is that because participants are basically spectators in the event, they don't develop any deep connections to the content and end up "surface learning". That surface knowledge can be regurgitated back for a short time afterwards, but it tends to fade pretty quickly and it's much harder to apply outside of the original, basic context.

If you've ever had the experience of cramming for an exam, and not remembering that content a few months later, that's surface learning. It's one of the reasons that traditional safety videos have limited effectiveness - they're passive experiences so drivers only skim the surface of the content, and while they may be able to pass a test afterwards, that knowledge fades quickly.

Active learning, on the other hand, expects the learner to be an active participant in the experience, not just receiving the content as it's delivered, but making decisions about the process and taking some responsibility for the outcome. It's a newer approach, and more complicated to design and build (regardless of the delivery medium) but it's much more effective.

Active Learning and Fuel Efficiency

Because the learner is actively engaged in the experience, they absorb the content more deeply, and develop an understanding of how to apply it in different contexts. In the world of safety training, this is critical since you want the learner to develop a deep connection to the subject and demonstrate that connection every day on the job.

In fact, pretty much all training that drivers receive can benefit tremendously from an active learning approach. The nature of the job is such that drivers are faced with different, varying situations all the time, so they need to be able to apply their training in different contexts and make decisions about how to adapt it to real world conditions most effectively.

Fuel efficiency training is a great example of this.

To improve fuel efficiency, drivers need to understand all the little things that make a difference one way or the other, adapt their driving behaviors to maximize the positive impact of all those little things, then consciously practice them until they become habits. A passive learning experience isn't going to get the desired result because it doesn't foster the kind of personal connection that's required, and it's not sticky enough for the effect to last until the new habits are formed. An active learning experience is required.

Here are some things we see fleets doing in this area that tend to work really well:

There aren't many fleets that do all of those, but it's pretty common to see education + coaching, then maybe one or two other pieces on top. Every fleet needs to find a balance that works within its culture, but the successful programs all focus on getting drivers motivated and engaged in the process of continous improvement. That kind of engagement requires drivers to take a direct role in the learning experience, which is why active learning is so much more effective in the long run.

It's definitely more work than just having someone deliver a lecture then sending drivers out on their own, but it also delivers much better results, so the effort pays off in the end.

That's the (relatively) simple and straightforward version. Of course, if you want the geekspeak version, I'll be happy to provide that as well!