BC Ferries

Case Study: The British Columbia Ferry Services and Marine Learning Systems


BC Ferries began a journey to becoming a "world class" safety organization in 2007, when Union and Management began collaborating on a program called SailSafe. SailSafe builds upon the company's current safety practices and reflects the Unions' and BC Ferries' commitment to safety as an essential part of our business and our daily work. Whenever an organization embarks on a journey of this magnitude, success is frequently underpinned by training. The specific training component that we will focus on here is the Standardized Education and Assessment (SEA) program that is replacing the traditional, job-shadowing approach to onboard and on-site familiarization at BC Ferries. The goal of SEA is to bring the highest possible standards to employee performance using modern, proven training and assessment techniques for job training and vessel/route/terminal familiarization without sacrificing the benefits of the traditional, job-shadowing approach to marine training. The Marine Learning Management System (MarineLMS) plays a central role in achieving this goal.

About the SEA Program

The SEA program is a blended learning approach, employing both eLearning and face-to-face training to their greatest strengths. The program consists of several phases which vary somewhat by position. The core phases are self-study with summative examination, onboard/on-site education, and clearance including practical, oral and written examinations.

Phase 1: Self Study and Summative Exam

Phase 1 is delivered entirely using eLearning. In this phase, trainees are provided with a set of comprehensive learning resources accompanied by self-tests, available both on-line and on paper via MarineLMS. Trainees study this information independently and, when ready, write an on-line "summative" exam to demonstrate that they have gained the needed information. This examination is delivered by MarineLMS on line or on paper, automatically graded and audit logged. It is randomized to ensure that trainees cannot easily share answers, yet consistent to ensure that all critical aspects are being assessed. Trainees will not proceed to onboard education until they have passed the summative examination.

The self-study and summative examination phase has been created to ensure that when a trainee proceeds to onboard training, they already possess a uniformly high level of background knowledge. It is excellent at identifying those trainees who need additional time, or who are simply not cut out for the position for which they are training. In addition, this phase provides its benefits before any ill-equipped trainees proceed to the more expensive phase of onboard training, wasting time and resources. Another significant benefit is that the onboard training phase is shorter, more efficient and more effective because the trainees arrive with uniform knowledge gained from the self-study. This is advantageous for both the trainee and the organization.

MarineLMS plays a pivotal role in providing these benefits by serving as a central location where all self-study support information, learning materials, self-tests and summative exams are accessed. In addition, MarineLMS provides learning reports and analytics that provide deep insight into the learning and assessment process, forming the foundation on which the process of continuous improvement can be built.

Phase 2: Onboard Education

Phase 2 is blended - mixing both face-to-face training and eLearning. Once onboard or on site, the trainees are instructed by a dedicated educator who can accommodate up to four students at a time. Although dedicated to the task of training while engaged in that activity, trainers typically train only part-time, and operate as regular crew the remainder of the time. This provides the combined benefits of job knowledge and knowledge of effective training techniques. The training regimen is standardized, specific and structured to ensure that all critical tasks and scenarios are covered and that standardized operating principles and best practices are taught.

MarineLMS supports the onboard education phase by acting as a resource for learners, trainers and training administrators. It delivers comprehensive SEA learning materials which are dynamically assembled by MarineLMS for the specific route, vessel and terminal combination. It also acts as the repository of administrative information such as onboard education agendas, activities documents, overview documents, and so on; all the resources required for successful onboard education at BC Ferries. These materials guide the onboard education process and act as an authoritative learning resource and knowledge repository for the trainer and trainee to refer to at any time. They are available in a centralized resource, on-line or on paper, customized to the position and equipment being trained for.

Phase 3: Clearance

The clearance phase is blended - mixing both face-to-face training and eLearning. This phase of the SEA program follows directly from the onboard education phase. It is performed by a dedicated "clearer" who is typically a different trainer (whenever operational circumstances allow) than the one that performed the onboard education. Having the clearer be a different person than the trainer ensures that unconscious (or conscious) biases or conflicts are unlikely to enter into the clearance process. It is the goal of the trainer to instill all the required knowledge and competencies, and the goal of the clearer to ensure this has been successful.

Clearance consists of an oral examination, a series of skill demonstrations, a meeting with the master (for deck department clearances), and finally a written exam assembled, delivered and graded by MarineLMS to be specific to the vessel, route and/or terminal being tested. As for the summative exams, MarineLMS generates comprehensive assessment reports and analytics to ensure that training administrators understand which topics are being learned well, and which require improvement.

Taken together, these phases create a structured, objective, effective and measurable model for the specific job, vessel, route or terminal familiarization and clearance. In order to make the process practical, MarineLMS, was implemented to support all phases of the SEA program.

MarineLMS at BC Ferries

MarineLMS is the learning management system created specifically for the marine training environment. MarineLMS supports all phases of the BC Ferries SEA program and acts as a central hub and resource center for both trainees and trainers.


One of the primary functions of MarineLMS at BC Ferries is to make all learning materials (information, examinations, learning materials, reports and analytics, etc) easily available in one location to the trainees, trainers and training administrators. This is more involved than one might first imagine. For example, a deck department trainee can be training for any combination of route and vessel. Since there are approximately 900 potential combinations of route and vessel at BC ferries, without MarineLMS the only choices would be to either train separately for the route and then for the vessel, or to construct a very large number of overlapping training resources - nether choice being optimal. MarineLMS instead asks the trainee which vessel and route he or she is training for, and then dynamically assembles all company-general, job-specific, vessel-specific and route-specific materials into one seamless learning resource. The advantage for the trainee is that their learning materials are custom-constructed for their particular training objectives. The advantage for BC Ferries is that all learning materials, whether they are fleet-wide, or pertain to a particular vessel, vessel class, route or terminal are created once and maintained in one place regardless of how many "dynamic" documents they are used in.


Another function of MarineLMS at BC Ferries is to deliver the written summative and clearance examinations. MarineLMS dynamically creates randomized examinations, choosing a selection of questions for the selected route, terminal, vessel and job being examined. Although randomized to reduce the possibility of trainees briefing one another on the contents of the written exam, question choice follows certain rules to ensure that exams cover the needed materials and are of equal difficulty. Exams are graded automatically if written on-line, and an answer key is provided if written on paper.


MarineLMS also provides a series of measurements to enable auditing, to ensure the quality of training outcomes and to facilitate continuous improvement of the learning process at BC Ferries. This can be a valuable aid to ensure (and demonstrate) that specific areas of knowledge are being successfully learned by the trainees, and to identify and close the gap on those areas which are not successfully learned - before an accident happens, not after.

The BC Ferries Trainer Community

MarineLMS includes a trainer community which has been employed at BC Ferries to allow the trainers to communicate, learn from one another and exchange best practices. This is very effective at facilitating standardization, trainer buy-in, and new trainer mentoring. The MarineLMS trainer community also supports groups of common interest. At BC Ferries, this has been used to create groups for each vessel, route and terminal. These groups not only make it easy for like-minded trainers to communicate, but also make it easy for BC Ferries administrators to communicate with, for example, all deckhand trainers operating on a particular vessel.


Overall, MarineLMS acts as a centralized resource for all standardized learning materials and assessments at BC Ferries that support the SEA program. It dynamically generates seamless resources based on the chosen learning or assessment parameters, it maintains a comprehensive set of access and learning metrics for continuous improvement, it simplifies and centralizes content maintenance greatly reducing the cost of maintaining the learning materials, and provides a place for the formation of the BC Ferries trainer community.

The reaction to the SEA program and MarineLMS at BC Ferries has been very positive. Key aspects considered to be significant improvements include having dedicated trainers, the standardized approach, and easy access to customized, specific learning materials in one central location via MarineLMS. Trainers and administrators appreciate the structured approach, the support materials, and the access, learning and assessment reports and analytics generated by MarineLMS.

In addition to these benefits, there is no question that the primary benefit of SEA and MarineLMS is ensuring that each trainee has been successfully trained on best practices, and that the assessments provide confidence that trainee abilities, both individually and collectively, are well understood. There is also a strong belief that the combination of self-study and MarineLMS delivery have saved training costs and reduced the cost of maintaining and delivering learning materials. This is important, but secondary to improved training and the resulting benefits to safety and performance.

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