It’s official. Generation Z now stands for Generation Zoom. For nine months, we’ve talked online, taught online, and trained online. But is anybody learning anything, or are we just marking time?

I recently conducted a very comprehensive straw poll. I asked my three kids if they’re learning anything. I have one in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school. The collective answer was no; we’re not. Now, the answer changes if you ask my wife and me the same question. Are we learning anything? Yes, a great deal. Let’s just call this what it is, Homeschooling with Google.

Truth be told, one of my kids attends a private school that meets several days a week and has continued to learn a great deal, but with every quarantine, it seems the learning curve falls off. But this does not mean online learning is a failure.

Being both a college professor and a corporate trainer, I have trained in classrooms, hotel conference rooms, airport admin offices and boardrooms, a mobile home in one case, and several times online. In addition to my immediate family’s straw poll, I spoke to numerous university students and professionals who participated in my Zoom-based courses this year.

But not everyone agreed that in-class is better than online. Some students and professionals said they liked the online courses better because it allowed them to learn more at their own pace. In class, the instructor must maintain a certain pace to cover all of the material. This leaves some students behind, while others are bored because it is not coming at them fast enough.

In almost all cases, I do NOT blame the teachers or trainers for being unable to sustain the same academic rigor and engagement level as in class. All of us scrambled to convert the curriculums we typically teach in the classroom to the online environment. This was like being on a ship and having to quickly patch a leaking pipe, so the ship doesn’t sink – it is not a long-term solution, but it will do until permanent repairs are made.

For nine months, we’ve been doing that as teachers and trainers. We are putting patches on leaking educational and training pipelines.

Ensuring a safe, secure, efficient, and now healthy flying experience requires an incredible amount of training at all levels throughout the industry, not just flight training. Although online training and distance-learning are not new, the pandemic shoved it to the forefront and forced us to accept it as the primary learning method in 2020 across numerous domains.

Despite the common belief that the industry and the world will return to “normal,” once the pandemic is “over,” online training is here, and it is here to stay. Just as corporations take advantage of these difficult times to restructure their business models, get out of unfavorable contracts and invalidate union agreements, those same corporations will also evaluate their training models.

In some ways, online instruction allows more people to get an education or attend a training course they would ordinarily not be able to afford on their own. However, here is the most critical part of successful online instruction:

It’s about the student, the material, and the delivery.

For the most part, the student decides how much they will learn. The old cliche, you get out of it what you put into it has never been more accurate than in the online environment. The student must want to be there and want to learn. It is challenging to stay engaged sitting at a computer screen when there are so many other distractions around us. An effective online student must be more disciplined than in class.

Second, the materials and the instructor must be more engaging than in the classroom. Online, you are not there to bring your energy to the room. Quit reading long-winded PowerPoint’ed sentences, trim down the bullet points, allow for more discussion, and force the students to fill in the blanks, so to speak, rather than spoon feeding them the information.

Third, use online learning when appropriate and understand that there will be resistance. The fact is our industry must adapt, and in some cases, you will need to make the argument for how certain types of training must be done in class or can be done as effectively online.

You might think that there will always be things that must be taught in the real world, and you’re probably right. I mean, in an airplane, when you pull back on the control stick, the houses get smaller, and when you push forward, the houses get bigger.

But we’ve been teaching that in a flight simulator for 80 years. The use of flight simulators dates back to the initial Link trainers of the 1930s. But I’m sure some pilots were opposed to using a simulator at all. Maybe not a lot of pilots but, pretty sure one guy in the back of the room, at least.

Photo by Shutterstock.

“Uh, excuse me, quick question….”

We can do many things by simulation or online that would be too dangerous to do in the real world. I recall selecting photos for the book, Denver Airports: from Stapleton to DIA and seeing pictures of some of the 1960s-era United Airlines flight simulators (page 46).

We can even simulate air sickness…well, we can actually make you airsick without ever leaving the ground. Just ask any of my kids after they’re done playing flight simulator or air combat on their Oculus VR.

If you are still not convinced that many things could be done online, think about a pilot’s Initial Operating Experience (IOE). Sitting in the right seat is a freshly minted First Officer, his or her hands on the controls of a regional jet for the very first time, with a planeload of passengers in the back. Keep in mind, a qualified captain is sitting next to them. This just isn’t something we advertise to the passengers.

“Uhhhhhh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, uhhhhhh, we’d like to tell you that this is Chad’s first day flying this type of airplane, uhhhhhhh, up until now, it’s all been Cessna’s and simulators, uhhhhhhh, let’s all wish him the best of luck, shall we?”

At least, that would be one real-world way to test how fast passengers can evacuate an airplane. But I digress (as I often do).

Flight simulators found their place in our industry, just as online training and teaching has, and will continue to, find its place. Generation Zoom is rapidly adapting to the technology and the techniques. Many of them have figured out that they need to take more responsibility for their learning experience. Some are already demanding that instructors adopt new teaching methods that help them stay engaged.

Moving forward, both aviation and the training industry must address three significant challenges. First, we must determine when online learning can substitute for in-class learning. Second, we must create in the student’s minds WHY this information is essential to keep them engaged. Third, we must work harder to create effective online learning by letting go of old models and developing new and engaging online, in-classroom methods, and while we’re at it, integrated-based training.

And just because those of us Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials may not be on board with online instruction, remember that generation zoom are the digital natives. They live in a different world than we do, and if we want them to learn what we know, it’s time to meet them in their virtual, environment.


Jeffrey Price

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