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eLearning. Distance learning. The Virtual Classroom. What does it all mean?

If you work in road transport, you’ll probably be familiar with eLearning. After all, it’s been around for some time. From those days of pixelated graphics, clunky buttons and more text than you can shake a stick at, it’s come along way; in the last few years the quality has taken a significant leap forward, with learning modules regularly featuring interactive elements to keep things interesting and engaging.

EU policy makers have also embraced the idea. In many countries, eLearning is now accepted as a method to meet the mandatory 35 hours’ training, which is a significant step for drivers and trainers alike.

But how effective is eLearning in road transport?

I ask this question because, time and again, people struggle with it. From the developers who focus more on content than learning outcomes, to the agencies responsible for approvals struggling to measure it, to the drivers who aren’t always tech-savvy and often have a poor experience.

It’s important to get it sorted. Major advancements in technology coupled with the competence of most people to use apps, systems and devices, mean that eLearning will become the norm for vocational learning. Or will it?

It’s hard to say how widespread eLearning is, but often the term’s used to describe all forms of distance learning so it gets a little murky. Therefore, it’s going to be important to create clear definitions as we move towards a more remote way of learning for professional drivers.

Where eLearning defines the tool, distance learning and the virtual classroom defines the methodology.

Distance learning is a form of education where the main parts include physical separation of trainers and students (drivers) during instruction, combined with the use of various technologies to facilitate student-trainer communication. Essentially, it’s self-study with support from a trainer and other relevant personnel.

The virtual classroom is a form of education where an online learning environment allows trainers and students to communicate, interact, collaborate and / or explain ideas. It could (and often does) enable students to access quality trainers anywhere on the planet as long as both parties have a reliable internet connection.

So, in essence, it’s more interactive than distance learning.

These definitions will help to identify the options available for drivers. More importantly, by reinforcing the difference between the definitions, stakeholders will use terms more accurately and more consistently, reducing confusion.

So, now we’re focused on distance learning and the virtual classroom, what’s going to be the stand-out choice for drivers and what’s important?

Well, for me the virtual classroom offers the benefits of the real classroom, without the hassle of travel. Drivers often get energised by discussing topics with their peers, so as long as the trainer’s competent managing a virtual session then there’s every reason to be optimistic about the future of vocational driver education.

However, a trainer must be competent to manage and deliver a virtual session. Often, they'll ‘ad lib’ in a traditional classroom, which works well in that type of environment. Try it online though, and you’ll quickly lose your audience.

Elements like break-out rooms, games, case studies and quizzes will need to be managed well, and the process for ID and feedback will need to be slick and effective.

Distance learning will certainly have its place, but I suspect it will be used more for corporate training rather than mandatory training; the nature of a one-to-one session makes it almost impossible to justify when several drivers need to complete their training hours.

Either way, it’s important to embrace change and start to move away from the traditional classroom. The cost and inconvenience will become less acceptable as more virtual options come to the fore.   

For more information on the virtual classroom, visit


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