If there were world enough, and time, many fleet executives and managers in search of advanced training might opt for the traditional classroom-style approach, perhaps in some scenic setting overlooking a manicured green. Imagine the luxury of focusing on one thing for awhile, of taking your time, of discussion and interesting debate with like-minded folks enjoying learning in a leisurely mode.

Imagining is about as close as most busy fleet managers can get to this rosy ideal, however. Running a fleet operation is not a career that lends itself to leisurely pursuits, even of something that has become as essential to business success as sharpening existing skills and developing new ones. No wonder e-learning is finding such a receptive new audience in trucking.

The industry has actually been ahead of the curve in many respects when it comes to taking advantage of technology in providing Internet-based training to drivers and technicians. Moving drivers and technicians to the front of the line for training was an easy choice, a case of putting first things first. After all, safe drivers and safe equipment have always been the top priority, regulated by conscience, good business sense and the DOT. Trucking has been slower, however, to bring those same benefits to the desk-bound employees tasked with running the day-to-day operations of the company.

Now, it is finally the fleet managers’ and executives’ turn to e-learn. Trucking industry suppliers and organizations are leveraging interactive, online training tools and techniques to bring e-learning opportunities to fleet managers and executives, too. Best of all, the new online learning options are delivering top-quality, industry-specific content that can be continually updated to meet the changing needs of this most-changeable of industries.

NEW TO THE CLOUD

One of the newest and most ambitious interactive, online offerings is the Private Fleet Management Online (PFMO) program, a joint project of Instructional Technologies Inc. (ITI) and the National Private Truck Council (NPTC). Launched in October, PFMO is a five-volume e-book of more than 900 total pages covering all five core disciplines of private fleet management, including safety, security and compliance; human resources and workplace development; finance; fleet operational management; and equipment and maintenance strategies. The fleet operations section alone has 16 chapters.

According to Gary Petty, president & CEO of NPTC, the content is based on the best practices, strategies and operations management techniques of the nation’s leading private fleets, originally captured in the training materials for NPTC’s Certified Transportation Professional program, which began more than 20 years ago.

“This replaces the Fleet Learning Center, which was really just the pages of the Certified Transportation Professional training manual available online,” says Tom Moore, vice president-education for NPTC. “It is so much richer; it incorporates so many different learning activities. The private fleet culture is very open and engaged.

I think that culture of engagement is rolled into this new product.”

While many people will use the PFMO program to help prepare to take the Certified Transportation Professional test, Moore sees the program as having uses well beyond certification. “It is a real resource,” he notes, “something people will go back to. Many of our members are already institutionalizing the content, making it a part of their own promotional processes.”

“PFMO is not just an e-book, but an online reference guide,” agrees Dr. James Voorhees, founder & CEO of ITI. It includes video from Instructional Technologies’ extensive training library, plus more graphics, spreadsheets and work sheets that can be downloaded for use. What is more, the cloud-based program will run on virtually any mobile device or web browser, and it can be updated anytime.

Current plans are to make updates four times a year.

“People learn in different ways,” explains ITI CIO Aaron Purvis. “We wanted people to be able to access the system in different ways, but we also wanted the experience to be consistent.” Accordingly, the e-book screens are touch-friendly and users can search for any content item, not just text. All elements can be bookmarked, too, and a notes section for users is automatically saved.

The end result is a tool that extends the usefulness and reach of the original training materials, sometimes in surprising ways. “This program can really open up a company’s hiring pool for managers because it enables fleets to bring new people up to speed much faster than before,” notes Purvis. “It is also excellent for cross-training.

There is even a chapter on partnering with your CFO to help people work better as a team, to understand where the other guy is coming from.” “It is also a good way to provide upward mobility to drivers and others,” adds Voorhees. “It can provide a path upwards within a company. Some companies would like to customize their content, and we can do that as well.”

Libraries Online

According to Thom Schoenborn, vice president of marketing, Instructional Technologies, about 80% of the content of the PFMO program is already also applicable to over-the-road (OTR), for-hire trucking operations, but the company plans to have a special OTR version available sometime in 2013.

They are also exploring taking their developed-from-the ground-up platform to other industry groups and even universities. “There is really a fantastic market for this just within trucking, though,” Schoenborn says.

The new PFMO program is offered on a subscription basis, with special discounts for NPTC members. The Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) has also been expanding its online library of training materials and resources for fleet executives and managers. Called the Truckload Academy, the goal has been to transfer content that was originally offered only in face-to-face instructional sessions into material available online. The most recent offering, introduced in November, is an online certificate program for fleet and driver managers called “The Highly Effective Fleet Manager."

It is presented as a seven-part series and focuses on the business, leadership, communication and coaching skills that fleet managers require to be successful. It also outlines best practices that relate specifically to the fleet management position. The program can be purchased from the Truckload Academy Live Learning Center. TCA members are offered a discounted price. Once purchased, the program can be accessed 24/7 for two years via an Internet connection.

TCA’s Ron Goode, director of education and training-Truckload Academy, says the modules in the new program are fully interactive with links that participants can click on for further information. Quizzes are also built into the program to help measure comprehension. Students must take each quiz to progress through the training, but they are not required to answer every question correctly. “The program will show you where to go to find the right answer, if you miss a question,” Goode notes. “The goal is learning.” Fleet managers do have to pass a final online exam, however, in order to receive a certificate of completion.

More on the way

The Highly Effective Fleet Manager is the first of two certificate programs to be released, according to Goode. In the spring of 2013, TCA plans to release a similar program on training and recruiting for HR professionals. The Truckload Academy includes other training materials in other formats, Goode adds. For example, the majority of sessions at the organization’s annual meetings are recorded and available online, played back with the accompanying Power Point presentations.

Webinars offered by TCA are also recorded and available through TCA’s Live Learning Center.

As a long-time provider of safety and compliance training for the trucking industry, J.J. Keller & Associates is also adding online, interactive training to its broad mix of educational offerings, says Joel Landsverk, product manager for the company’s online training, including for course development.

“Interactive training is self-paced, so people can spend more time on areas where they need to,” he observes. “A benefit of online education is that the system does the recordkeeping for you. It can keep track of when each student began a training program, when they finished and how well they did,” Landsverk adds. “If you are being audited, the first thing you’ll be asked for is your records.

“Another good thing is that online training is consistent; the same message is delivered every time,” he notes. “It is a good way to make sure you are hitting your marks.”

Landsverk also views interactive, online training as an especially good option for adult learners. “Most adults who have been on the job 15 or 20 years don’t have much time or appetite for required training,” he says, “and we are very respectful of that. Some topics, like cargo securement or hours-of-service logging, can also be rather mundane, and people just don’t want to have to hear it over again. We acknowledge that.

“We want people to connect with the training and not to be bored,” he adds. “We want them to say, ‘I really didn’t want to go through that training very much, but I have to say that they brought out some interesting ideas.’” To help make training programs engaging, J.J. Keller even studies film and incorporates as many techniques as possible, including graphics, sound effects and original music.

Face-to-Face Learning

Landsverk notes that most of the company’s customers say they still use a mix of all types of training, from interactive e-learning to instructor-led training programs. “We try to give people as many options as possible,” he says. “We still highlight video-based, instructor-led training, though. We give instructors complete guides to teaching courses using our video programs.”

NPTC’s Moore shares this belief in the ongoing value of face-to-face learning. “Our new interactive program will help people prepare to sit for the Certified Transportation Professional test,” he explains. “They don’t have to attend the classroom training we offer at our annual Institute to help them get ready for the test, but we are looking at the new online program as an addition to the in-person Institute, not a replacement for it. There is still something extra, something unique that happens when people actually get together and share ideas.”