VHS player and casettes

The Evolution of eLearning - Why Trucking is Different

When career eLearning people come into the trucking industry they're often struck by how different it is from other industries. The content itself is not usually an issue - every industry has its own quirks, acronyms, and arcane regulations, so trucking actually fits in pretty well with other industries there. Where it's different is the focus on video-based training. In the broader learning and development world, video is generally regarded as a useful component of a larger training product, but not as a complete product on its own. Within trucking, though, video is often the only thing people think of for online training.

So how did trucking get to be so different from everyone else when it comes to online education?

Tracing the evolution of eLearning both inside and outside of the trucking industry provides some explanation, but also highlights some very different approaches to content design. Let's have a look at that evolution and see what it means for the training world today.

The Evolution of eLearning in Trucking

In the beginning, there was classroom training, and it was unpleasant. It was inconvenient and disruptive to fleet operations, but it was the only option so people put up with it. To minimize the pain, fleets only delivered the training they absolutely had to. The critical stuff got covered, but non-critical things rarely made the cut.

In the '80s and '90s, video emerged as another option. It let people participate at any time, in any quantity (whether one person or a full class), and it offered some consistency in delivery. That flexibility meant that more subjects could be justified, so the amount of training being delivered went up. It was a big improvement over classroom training, but there were still issues.

People still had to physically be there to watch, which meant the scheduling headaches didn't disappear completely. Video tapes also had a habit of disappearing or breaking, and when the regulations changed fleets had to get new versions of the videos and make sure the old ones were pulled from circulation. Paper-based tests included with the videos offered a way to confirm that learning happened, but that meant keeping track of which tests went with which videos, keeping track of answer keys for marking, and storing the completed tests in a physical file somewhere. DVDs offered better quality and had more capacity, but they was otherwise the same as VHS. It's worth noting that VHS and DVD were a pain for providers as well, since having to ship physical products (which tended to break in the mail) added to the fulfillment costs and headaches.

After dealing with all that, the emergence of online video was a big relief for both vendors and fleets, since it solved a lot of those problems. With online video, there's no physical product to ship, no issues with tapes disappearing or breaking, and people can access the content remotely so they don't have to come into the terminal. Having tests online also removed need for paper and simplified the marking process. The result is a much more flexible product, and today most of the vendors who were previously selling VHS/DVD safety products have added (or moved completely to) online video.

The Evolution of eLearning in the Corporate Space

In the corporate space, the progression was very different.

Training here also started in the classroom, but even though participants were in the office already it was still a pain to get them into training. Adding to the challenge was the fact that you could always count on someone being sick on training day, or a new hire who started right afterwards. The environment may have been different from trucking, but many of the issues ended up being the same.

Instead of moving to video, though, Computer-Based Training (CBT) was the next step in the corporate world. In the '80s and '90s everyone there was getting PCs and getting connected to corporate networks, so CBT content (stored on corporate servers and delivered over internal networks) was a logical option. CD- and DVD-based CBTs moved this off the corporate network and made content available in more remote places, but like VHS/DVD it didn't change the essential part of the experience from the previous network-based delivery. These ended up being very similar to the interactive CD-ROMs from the '90s - a combination of different media types presenting content on a particular subject - but with more exercises and testing at the end.

CD-ROM and DVD training had the same issues as their VHS counterparts - physical items that would break, go missing, or need to be replaced when the content changed - so moving online provided the same benefits in terms of remote access, ease of updates, and no more need for shipping or replacing physical objects. Today, essentially all of the vendors who used to produce interactive CD/DVD courses have moved completely online.

Which Method is Best?

Two very different product types, reflecting two very different development paths and approaches to training. So, which one is better?

It depends on the context.

For situations where you need very specific, immediate guidance, videos work just fine. If you need help doing something that you've never done before and may never do again, you're probably going to find a 5 minute Youtube video and get exactly what you need.

However, if it's something where you need to develop a deeper understanding of the content and retain that knowledge for a longer period, the interactive CBT-style approach will work much better. In another article I talked about the difference between passive and active learning, and the importance of training that sticks with people. Videos aren't sticky, so while they can be a great help in the moment as a visual guide, people tend not to retain that information for very long. They're like the pictogram instructions you get with Ikea furniture - they guide you through the process of assembling the item (most of the time), but you won't remember the steps a week later.

Interactive CBTs would be overkill for that simple one-off task, but they're more of an active learning experience so they're stickier. That makes them better suited to situations where it's important to understand broader concepts and develop a strong base of ingrained knowledge.

In the trucking world, many of the safety-related topics are things where drivers should be developing that deeper level of knowledge, so the interactive CBT approach is generally going to be the more effective tool for that. There are certainly situations where a quick video or pictogram will give people the steps they need in a particular moment, but for larger training initiatives a more complete solution is going to be the way to go.