E-learning as a Training Tool

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E-learning as a Training Tool

47TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Arusha, Tanzania, 10-14 March 2008

WP No. 162

E-learning as a Training Tool

Presented by PLC


As technology progresses around the world, the method of E-learning as a way to provide training is being used more and more nowadays. E-learning is a different method of learning compared to classroom instruction as the student will basically only need a computer to obtain the skills he needs. The benefits and drawbacks of this method will be mentioned, and it is made clear that possible cost reductions should not be the main reason for choosing this method. In general E-learning can be a good supplement to existing training methods.


1.1  Rapid developments in automation and digital communications are providing an opportunity for air traffic control training departments to benefit from superior training tools. Corresponding developments in training tools is changing the nature of ATC facilitation by enhancing standards of product, quality and safety, while at the same time reducing constraints on student numbers, limitations on instructor-student ratios, and in many cases the associated costs. With access to personal computers and the internet a natural progression to distance learning appears to be emerging. The internet has no boundaries; E-learning can span borders and continents (Presentation on distance learning of Mr Fernando Marrero de Armas, TRAINAIR Central Unit, ICAO). The classical approach in training (classroom, blackboard and paper) has a limited capacity to respond to the growing need of training solutions worldwide.

1.2  Traditional training methodology required that courses be delivered to a limited group of students (group based training) in one place at the same time (synchronous training). New information and communications technologies deploy new means which break traditional constraints of space (in the sense of distance) and time (asynchronous training). This way, the applications of the concept of synchronous and asynchronous training have a new and affordable place in the training planning. It is important to highlight that distance learning is closely associated with the asynchronous training approach. Students may not be required to access course materials in a particular place or at a particular time.

1.3 This paper will address the use of E-learning as a training tool and look at the impact of E-learning on the controller.


2.1 Definition of E-learning

E-learning refers to a process in which education is offered using electronic delivery methods. E-learning can be defined as the delivery of training over an electronic network (technology facilitated learning) or as stand-alone distance learning with the aid of a computer terminal. The material content of E-learning is designed and developed with the same instructional objectives as classroom-based training, but under the umbrella of E- learning we can include the following : computer based training (CBT), text- based chats, podcasts, virtual classrooms, e-mail, forums, games, blogs, online downloadable documents, MP3 audio, video conferencing and websites, etc. Various methods of learning could include: interactive self- study, viewing of video material, listening to recorded audio material, reading, exploration, practice, facilitated discussion, etc. (Best practices for E-learning developers in ATM, Eurocontrol)

2.2 Points of View of ICAO and IFATCA

In line with existing points of view from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) (Position taken by the ICAO Council during their seventh meeting of the 179th Session), IFATCA is of the opinion that E-learning has the potential to be an efficient way of providing training as it allows for a much larger audience than with typical classroom courses. ICAO will take a leading role in developing standardised E-learning packages; however the long term aim is for the Service providers (ANSPs) to be self-sufficient in the development of E-learning courses. There is a recognised need to set up an E-learning platform, accessible via the main server of ICAO together with sub servers at all ANSPs which will allow them to organise their own regional and sub-regional courses, based on ICAO standardised E-learning training packages, adapted to regional needs (ICAO-ASTC Task Force Meeting of E-learning, Brussels, 19-21 June 2006). E-learning is not aiming to replace classroom training; but to complement it, depending on the target audience and /or course content. Because of this feature the concept of combined or blended learning should be considered in the training environment.

2.3 Structure of an E-learning program

When organizing and structuring an E-learning program careful attention must be paid to such issues as organisational, technical and pedagogic implications, however this paper focuses on the structure of an E-learning program, rather than the pedagogic or technical issues. Those elements of E-learning that need to be considered for successful learning to take place are very similar to those in other more ‘classical’ learning activities – basics such as motivation and simplicity. During the organisation and the deployment of an E-learning program those persons responsible must always consider ways to motivate the end-user to learn, the need for human interaction and the importance of keeping the structure simple, thereby enhancing the learning experience. So, when designing any training module the first focus should be to get to know and understand the needs of the learner (the active controller), then together with the ATCO the target of the learning module should be developed and the appropriate method or ‘blend’ defined and implemented.

2.4 Motivation

Operational control staff is normally confronted with occupational training for two reasons: the first is because it is a requirement for them in order to obtain or maintain a valid license, and the second is out of personal interest. This latter in the case of students wanting to receive extra training on their own time at their own pace. In both cases those concerned need to be motivated in order to effectively benefit from the learning experience. It is vital not to forget that even where individuals are obliged to undergo training, they still need to be motivated for the training to be effective and for them to be successful. It is wrong to assume that because someone is obliged to undergo training, they will do this whole-heartedly. It is a fact that at times students in any learning environment can lose interest and their participation will diminish. Motivation is not easy to achieve or sustain and we must be aware that if we are not careful in its use E-learning has the potential to capture even less attention than classroom instruction. By designing training modules that are dynamic, diverse, challenging and interactive with features like chatting and messaging, perhaps with voice capabilities, an interactive computer assisted training session can be highly motivating. The amount of resistance, direct or indirect, that was experienced in a number of obligatory E-learning training courses where the element of motivation was not considered has been high and many times has meant the difference between the success or failure of the E-learning program and the suspension of E-learning from the curriculum. (Guidelines on the use of E-learning in ATM part 1, Eurocontrol)

2.5 Fear of Change

Any time we introduce a new procedure or a different way of doing something we will often encounter the ‘fear of change’ element, along with the complications it tends to bring. Being aware of this has the benefit of giving us an opportunity to diagnosis the underlying causes of certain defensive reactions by operators or stakeholders and addressing them in a positive way while planning and organising an E-learning program, or at any stage of the training program. When devising E-learning for operational staff, special caution should be taken so as to ensure that the right balance is achieved between gains in flexibility and efficiency on one side, and the respect of their needs on the other. If the particular needs of the students are not properly balanced with the system needs, any potential benefits of E-learning could be in jeopardy.

2.6  Blended Learning

Our focus and emphasis should always be on the learning that needs to take place and not on the methods and media used in the process. The latter should be there only to facilitate the learning while enhancing efficiency where appropriate. The training approach should always consist of a blend of methods and media to make learning as effective as possible, but it is difficult to find the right ingredients (the perfect blend) that create the best learning effect. E-learning should be seen strictly as another ingredient that when used in the right recipes and in the right doses will improve the meals. Where we need to be extra cautious is with different learning styles – people have different learning styles along with different rates of learning and if only one method of learning is chosen we run the risk of alienating some learners because they do not respond well to the particular style presented. Of course, any method(s) has its strong and weaker points therefore a successful blend is one which takes this into consideration and uses methods that complement each other constructively. Blended learning is not about having a choice; it is a combination of everything in the right balance.

2.7  Benefits

E-learning provides increased flexibility in time for delivery of course materials. Whether as preparation for a facilitated session introducing a subject or as follow up to an instructor-led event, the information can be readily available. Students could virtually train any time around the clock, at their own pace focussing on their specific needs without the necessity to be taken out of their working environments in large numbers for extended times. Theory lessons can be made more attractive with demonstrations and examples and students can repeat sessions without delaying or disrupting the learning pace of peers and in the case of longer courses they can log-in and refresh their memory any time/as often as they wish. Another advantage of E-learning is the opportunity to start a specific training with students from different backgrounds on the same knowledge base simply by having them study the required modules prior to actual training. High quality E-learning packages will result in consistency of training and achievement of standards as students are able to track their individual progress by self testing.

2.8  Drawbacks

We have looked at how E-learning can be used to advantage, but there is a down-side. An example is situations requiring long periods of computer- based training sessions that have no human interaction which denies the student a classroom environment and the ‘competitive’ (positive) stimuli that goes with it. Students often feel isolated when face to face contact is lost and when there is no instructor/facilitator support. It is very important that ‘face-to-face’ interaction whether it’s in a final classroom session or via in- between sessions is not lost, therefore E-learning should not be used as a replacement for the tried and true, more preferred way of learning a subject in a classroom or simulator environment that included instructors and peers. Under no circumstances shall the use of E-learning only be motivated by cost reduction for the organisation. Although in most ATC organisations, the single largest cost is the skilled human resource component, IFATCA believes that training should not be seen as a cost, but as an investment in the future. E-learning can be seen as learning on the cheap, and some feel that the benefits are realized only by management, and not ATCO students.

E-learning can play a role by introducing more flexibility and cost efficiencies but the emphasis must be placed on the ‘learning’ aspect and not the ‘e’, (i.e. “learning-e”). There needs to be a “balance” between the potential benefits of E-learning and those of other existing training methods.

2.9  Best Practices

There are a number of things that could be done in order to organise and implement an E-learning program in the best possible way to motivate operational staff: provide time (as an organisation) for adequate student participation (not on own time)(However, when extra training tools are available, the opportunity may exist to exercise in your own time); make the program dynamic, interactive and simple; share existing well-designed programs already in use by others; choose the right method(s) with regard to the learning goal(s) with the use of good practice examples, linked with real situations; use the operational expertise of active controllers from the very beginning; provide the opportunity for human interaction (e.g. discussion between peers) ; keep the feedback loop short ; address the ‘fear of change’ factor; ask for advice, get informed about good practice examples and make sure they fit in the organisational context. The design of the overall training is of utmost importance. Here a one size fits all solution should be avoided. A program always needs to be adapted to the context and a blend of methods and media is most of the time, a better learning solution than the adoption of any one method.

2.10  Feedback and Discussion

For any training program to be successful it must have a process for the collection of information and a feedback mechanism for processing and action. E-learning systems often have the luxury to automatically collect data, however this data only turns into information if it is interpreted by somebody. Students also need feedback; preferably immediately after the training in order to know how well they performed.

Discussion sessions for both ATCO and teacher/facilitator are a necessity. The teacher should be able to verify whether the goal of the course has been reached, and the ATCO needs the opportunity to discuss and ask questions. Whether this is done in a virtual or real classroom doesn’t matter, the important thing is that there is room to discuss and to have face to face contact, making the learning material more active and real.


3.1  Training is needed in all areas of air traffic control, from initial training to continuation training, and from the introduction of new procedures to complete new technical systems. The classical approach in training (classroom, blackboard and paper) has a limited capacity of response to this growing need of training.

3.2  E-learning can be defined as the delivery of training over an electronic network (technology facilitated learning) or as stand-alone distance learning with the aid of a computer terminal.

3.3  E-learning is technology- facilitated learning. Face-to-face teaching is a proven effective tool; therefore E-learning should not be seen as a means of replacing traditional classroom based training but should be considered as a supplementary tool that can help enhance both teachers and students in the learning environment. The goal remains learning; it’s only the medium that’s changing. That’s why E-learning should not be an aim in itself but only a tool. E-learning can be combined with other different teaching/learning principles and technologies to produce a cost-effective method of training in various educational programs. E-learning can be part of the blend, but it’s not a necessity.

3.4  Training should not be seen strictly as a cost, but as an investment. Some believe it to be nothing more than “lip service”, learning on the cheap, and that the benefits are realized only by management. E-learning can play a role by introducing more flexibility and cost efficiencies but the emphasis must be placed on the ‘learning’ aspect and not the ‘e’, (i.e. “learning-e”). There needs to be a “balance” between the potential benefits of E-learning and those of other existing training methods.

3.5  The best possible way to implement E-learning is to take into account the following basic best practices; the quality and scope of the training shall not be diminished; the interest and the need of the ATCO is served and the right method is chosen with regard to the learning goal; sufficient time is provided; human interaction is incorporated; the feedback loop is kept short and the operational expertise of active controllers is used from the start.


4.1 It is recommended that the following be inserted on page 4323 as paragraph 2.7 of the IFATCA Manual:

2.7 E-learning (current 2.7 becomes 2.8)

2.7.1  E-learning can be defined as the delivery of training over an electronic network (technology facilitated learning) or as stand-alone distance learning with the aid of a computer terminal.

2.7.2  E-learning should be supported as a learning tool provided that:

  • The quality and scope of the training shall not be diminished by introducing E-learning;
  • E-learning serves the interest and the need of the ATCO or the student ATCO;
  • The right method is chosen with regard to the learning goal;
  • The organisation provides sufficient time;
  • The operational expertise of an active controller is used from the start;
  • Human interaction is incorporated;
  • The feedback loop is kept short;
  • E-learning is considered as part of the blend of training methods that is used to deliver training.


With grateful attitude to Mr. Bezzina for the useful information of; Guidelines on the use of E-learning in ATM part 1, Eurocontrol 2007.

Best practices for E-learning developers in ATM, Eurocontrol 2007.

Presentation on distance learning of Mr Fernando Marrero de Armas, TRAINAIR Central Unit, ICAO.

Position taken by the ICAO Council during their seventh meeting of the 179th Session.

ICAO-ASTC Task Force Meeting of E-learning, Brussels, 19-21 June 2006.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

April 11, 2020   794   Jean-Francois Lepage    2008    

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