View from the Edge

An Active Approach to Fuel Efficiency Training

In this issue, CarriersEdge co-founder Mark Murrell discusses different approaches to fuel efficiency training and shares some tips for creating a program that will deliver consistent results over the long term.

Even though fuel prices are lower than they have been in the past, focusing on efficiency still pays off - even relatively small improvements in daily consumption can generate significant benefits for the bottom line.

While there's a whole industry of products dedicated to optimizing fuel performance and maximizing aerodynamics, it often still comes back to the driver - their approach and habits can make a big difference. But they can also be tough to change, as well. Fleets have tried different types of training, often with mixed results. It's not uncommon for drivers to improve briefly then settle back into old habits after a month or two.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. There are fleets that have had real success in this area, and the foundations of that success can be employed by any fleet. Let's take a deeper look.

Active vs. Passive Learning

In order to understand the most effective ways to change driving habits, it's important to understand the two major types of learning, and how they affect behavior and performance over time.

The first type is known as Passive Learning, and it's any experience where 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, it has major limitations.

The biggest limitation 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.

On the other hand, the second type of learning - Active Learning - 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.

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. Drivers need to be able to apply that training in different situations and contexts all the time, so the deep connection that comes from active learning is critical.

Fuel Efficiency Training

This brings us back to fuel efficiency, and the challenge of changing driving habits.

To really see lasting improvements in 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 fleets are doing in this area that tend to work really well:

  • Make the educational component active by including exercises, real-life examples, and contrasting case studies so drivers can make a personal connection to the content.
  • Supplement the educational component with an in-cab portion so drivers have an opportunity to apply that new knowledge with guidance from an expert coach. In addition to providing an opportunity for discussion on the subject, the coach can also point out some of the subtler things that drivers may be missing.
  • Review results regularly and track the changes in efficiency. Have drivers do a self-assessment to capture how they think they're doing, then compare that with the actual numbers to see how they line up. (In a previous article we reviewed current trends in performance management, and fuel efficiency is often a key component of those.)
  • Repeat the coaching step periodically for all drivers, and more frequently for those not seeing desired improvements. While the initial coaching is focused on helping drivers translate the educational content into real world action, the second (and subsequent) coaching experiences focus more on getting drivers to develop conscious awareness of their actions and how those actions are impacting their efficiency.
  • Run contests and provide rewards for efficiency, recognizing those with good results and incenting others to focus their efforts towards the objectives.

There aren't many fleets that do all of those, but it's pretty common to see education + coaching, then 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.

While crafting a multi-tiered training approach is certainly more work than just delivering a lecture then sending drivers out on their own, it also delivers stronger, more consistent results. In the end, it's that continous improvement that generates the real benefit to the bottom line.

View from the Edge is a periodic review of best practices in risk management, driver development, and technology for the trucking industry, produced by CarriersEdge.

CarriersEdge provides interactive online driver training for the North American trucking industry. A comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses is supplemented with extensive content creation and customization options, full featured survey tools, detailed management reports, and the industry's first dedicated mobile app for driver training.

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