Kent Busk delivers his vision of future virtual port training that is both cost effective and accessible
Traditional, instructor-led training counts for the majority of training provided in the port industry, while costly high-end simulation games - supported by those instructors - only counts for a minor share of training provided in the port industry today. This leaves a training tools gap for those looking for fast, cost effective training solutions.
Could this gap be filled by low cost training games played on smartphones and tablets? Play stations and PCs could be put to good use to educate port professionals through 2D programmes. Port executives in remote geographical locations could certainly benefit from such development.
For years, websites like YouTube have been used extensively as learning platforms for many companies and individuals. These sites have in some cases are already replaced traditional classroom training for commonly used programs such as CAD, 3D modelling software, Excel, and the like. Free online training videos are often sufficient enough for the training of specific job tasks.
But while these videos may be interesting and engaging, the viewer does not participate or interact and the learning outcome are, as a result, rather limited in many cases - a recall rate of just 40% of what the learner sees and hears is not uncommon.
On the other hand, gaming technology has proven to be an efficient technology to maximise training efficacy - attentional, engagement, and recall; allowing the learner to use the information presented, critically analyse it, and then immediately apply the knowledge in practice with instant feedback.
Current training games for the port industry on the market are typically targeted at a limited and captive audience and aim at training in particular jobs and tasks. These are characterised by their specificity and applicability to only those specific job tasks. Additionally, the limited size of the port community, measured in market terms, poses a challenge to the funding of further training game development.
But educational material and teaching for the port community could be designed to reach a larger and broader community of learners with very different profiles, through less emphasis on training specific job tasks and on providing a near perfect mathematically-modelled virtual reality. These training games may then appeal to a larger audience of port professionals interested in learning while playing games.
Whether played individually or in instructor led training, every game should have their own 'surrogate social agent' to keep the attention and engage the gamer, rather than relying alone on an instructor. The social agent shall provide instant feedback, either in form of explanation in text or by animated instructors when the gamer makes a mistake or needs reward. Such instant feedback will enrich the experience, increase recall rate, and will prove cost efficient.
If the aim is to only provide training games, with a good mathematical and logical representation of the port, the system, and processes that examines the gamers’ actions at critical moments during the event, can only be designed and developed for the broader audience with significant development and design costs. With the high costs of developing and maintaining these types of simulation programmes, and with technological changes outdating game platforms in a relatively short time, the business-to-consumer would not be able to fund the development on its own. Instead, development of such specific training games for the port community would need to rely on the business-to-business market.
However, the price of training games could go down as the target audience increases if the port industry is prepared to adopt training games with less emphasis on exact representation of systems and processes, and considerably more attention on attention-grabbing game functions, high quality 3D models and graphics, game-joy, instant feedback, and progress path. With such an approach, high quality training games that could be played on PCs and play stations would become more affordable.
If simple user interfaces and 2D graphics could be developed for smartphone use, eye-catching and very interesting games could be developed for a larger audience at relatively low cost. 2D training games played on smartphones and tablets can be played for a few minutes at a time, are intuitive, are easily learned, and can be played in nearly any location, such as in the underground, in an elevator, or on the airplane.
Still, 2D games do have their limitations. Training in fields such as process optimisation, advanced port operations planning and strategic planning will typically be best done through video games and simulation games that deliver near-to-reality virtual worlds build on highly detailed 3D models and smart 3D graphics.
By our estimates, a good port industry educational 2D smartphone app with strong visual design can be developed for less than E70,000 for the first game, and E40,000 for subsequent games. This would be for training of basic - as well as advanced - principles of vessel stowage, vessel planning, berth planning, yard planning, resource optimisations, logistic planning and much more.
Industry experts advise that training games must not be too visually simplistic: they must provide either high quality 2D models, or high 3D quality otherwise learners will not take the games seriously as the visual appearance and user interface will not look as good as those they play at home. Therefore, detailed 2D and 3D modelling must at the core to achieve virtual reality.
With smartphones able to hold applications with large 3D videos running directly from the device or live streamed from the internet, this gives the industry the opportunity to provide a realistic virtual world with highly detailed 3D models and quality 3D graphics on smartphones. A typical safety and security induction smartphone game and skill assessment for staff, truck and visitors, with detailed 3D models and 3D graphics hosted on the internet and played on the smartphone, would typically cost E40,000-E50,000 for the first game.
Smartphone apps hosted on Play Store, iTunes, and others also allow us to get multiple useful KPIs with a mouse click. We can, for instance, easily find out then number of downloads on PCs versus smartphones; how many have played and in what languages; the number of play-throughs; as well as average and top scores.
Kent Busk is managing director of Seaport Advisors JLT, part of Seaport Group, an association of independent consulting companies. He has over 15 years of experience in materials handling of which 12 years were in the terminal and port industry.
Taking the company message outside
Training games need not be restricted to staff training; games made publically available can and are used for other agendas such as delivering messages related to marketing, company USPs, corporate values, and many more. The computer gamer community is very diverse, so the port is able to communicate with a broader target group, where secondary agendas could be equally important in the game applications.
Another usage of training games is for inductions and skill assessments. The airport industry is already using safety and security induction movies and skill assessments for issuing and renewing personal access cards to airport and airline employees as well as visitors. These 'games' bear little similarity to normal games but are rather interactive quizzes and are a cost effective way of training hundreds of employees annually. Our own game and animation team is working on similar interactive quizzes with lessons learned from airports.
One resource and cost efficient solution for ports is to make certain training games and induction movies available online for employees. Obvious candidates could be training games for learning the company’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations, Port Security regulations, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The goal is to launch and carry out training of large employee groups efficiently at low cost, and to enable employees to take the training courses any time it is convenient for them.
A final usage of training games that is worth mentioning is that training games and interactive quizzes can be incorporated into traditional classroom- and instructor-led training, in connection with training of operations, technical, and administrative staff.
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