When we first posted that we were launching a live online canopy course, the beginning of
many online adventure safety courses, a number of people asked me if I was joking. In the adventure community, actions have always spoken louder than words, and the internet is for surfing entertaining videos, not training. Although I fully understand the irreplaceable value of on-site instruction, there is a lot of work to do in a short time to get it done. People are dying out there.
USPA has wisely issued a mandate to help promote participation in canopy courses in
order to expedite the proliferation of the information that saves lives. This is a wonderful step, however the limited number of highly skilled canopy flight teachers causes a bottle-neck of resources. We need the information to get out there faster than we have the ability to spread it. Hence we find ourselves in the place that inspires innovation like no other, need.
Live online “e-learning” programs have been fully embraced by the corporate world in
recent years, and increasingly by universities and colleges as well. The choice to go with these high tech teaching systems has been partly financial, as it is far cheaper to implement than in-person training in the long run. It is also far greener because instructors no longer need to travel as much to accomplish the same goals. Lastly, corporations and learning institutions all
over the world have chosen to use the internet for education because of the vastly increased scope of potential students, as distance can be taken out of the equation. These compelling reasons have caused significant advancement in the technology that makes remote teaching possible, and huge breakthroughs have been made which allow interactions to be surprisingly
natural. Further, online testing can be utilized to allow instructors to get a feel for how well they are conveying the information, and what they need to focus on in the next sessions.
The implementation of this new model of instruction is still very much in its infancy,
however we are already finding that this futuristic method of information proliferation actually has several benefits over in-person training. When you take a canopy flight course, for instance,
you cannot control the weather. In most cases, the instructor is flown in from far away and is only on site for one weekend. If the weather does not cooperate, you are in for an all-theory course. With online courses, we are able to teach the group over the course of a month.
Chances are, the students will get the opportunity to jump in that time to practice what they have learned, and even get someone to video their landings to upload for the next course. Even if the participants do not get to jump, the longer duration of the course allows for deeper information association and transfer to long-term memory, as well as giving the students the opportunity to formulate better questions to help them get exactly what they want out of
the experience. If they don’t remember something from the class, they can even log onto the website and watch the course all over again. This is not possible in the traditional instruction paradigm.
Some will say, “But there is no substitute for being able to ask questions of your
instructor in the flow of the session. The new live online training systems allow participants to “raise their hand”, so-to-speak, and get the answer they need when they need it. If the students have a webcam as well, the interaction between the student and teacher is nearly as intimate as an in person discussion once the participants grow accustom to the new medium. For some people, this online format actually allows them to come out of their shells a bit more since they are not actually in a room full of strangers.
There is no doubt that on-site, hands-on instruction will remain the backbone of all
adventure training. There is a great deal that can only happen in a purely organic environment, which is why people like me will continue to pound the pavement and travel to a new dropzone almost every weekend. It is essential. However, the vast majority of skydivers do not have access to such camps but once or twice per year, and by then many of them will have already gotten hurt or even killed. If we are to truly strive to improve the safety of our sport in every way possible, embracing eLearning is an indispensable step toward getting the information out there in a reasonable time frame. The internet transcends time and space like nothing else known to mankind, and if we are serious about safety, than we must cast aside our reservations, and like the first pilots of ram-air canopies, we must give it a whirl. The fear of change is understandable. When we change, we risk things getting worse. However, if we do not try to improve and evolve, in the context of a changing environment, we are essentially moving backwards.
The technology passed down to us from wartime allowed our sport to come into
existence, and now the corporate world, sometimes equally sinister, has created a technology that will allow great students to connect to great teachers, anywhere in the world. The precious information that was once held by only a few mentors with a limited number of weekends in the year can now be disseminated at an exponential rate, and the possibilities for improvement of our sport and other adventure pursuits are endless. This is a truly incredible time. So when someone asks me if adventure training through eLearning is a joke, I have to ask them to
consider the possibility that any initial resistance to change is merely the inertia of habit and a little bit of fear. The future is being born right now in the present, and all we need to do to move forward into the vast potential of this new era of instruction is an open mind and a sense of adventure.
Brian Germain is a parachute designer and test pilot, and runs canopy flight skills and safety courses all over the world. Brian has made over 14,000 jumps in his 25 years in the sport. He is also the host of the “Safety First” segment on SkydiveRadio.com, and the creator of many educational videos. Brian is the author of the widely popular canopy flight text The Parachute and its Pilot, as well as Transcending Fear, Greenlight Your Life, and Vertical Journey. His websites are
www.BIGAIRSportZ.com , www.Transcendingfear.com and his online training programs can be found at www.AdventureWisdom.com. Brians highly aclaimed YouTube channel is: www.youtube.com/bsgermain