By Ed Pierce, Contributing Editor
For over 30 years, Driving Dynamics’ classroom driver training and behind-the-wheel exercises, e-learning, and simulation training have been a model for the fleet industry in effectiveness and innovation.
Its clients assign driver training for new hires, many of which are just out of college. Customers also have safety policies which dictate training drivers every few years. Finally, customers conduct training for high-risk drivers as dictated by MVRs, accidents, or company-wide collision trends or safety topics.
“We had to adapt our programs quickly when the pandemic hit because in-person classes were scheduled for all 2020,” she remembers, “we needed a plan to train drivers while keeping them safe.
“In the beginning, we had a lot of students that were having trouble adjusting to the change. Some even had to have their children show them how to log onto the Zoom classes! Fortunately, that issue was short-lived, and today, we’re hearing from many students that they actually prefer the online classroom training over the in-person method.”
Fast Transition to Virtual Training
According to Debbie, Driving Dynamics had to quickly transition from face-to-face training to virtual training once the COVID restrictions went into effect: “We had to train all of our staff members on the new program. We had to teach them how to use unfamiliar technology, using both Zoom and WebEx to accommodate all of our clients.
“Then we had to build a registration portal to make it convenient for students to enroll within a matter of weeks, automating all aspects of the meeting process. In the first 10 months, we registered over 10,000 drivers!”
The automation of the virtual training program has allowed Driving Dynamics to add new classes to its schedule.
Content Revisions and Testing Keep Drivers Engaged
In addition to the registration process, virtual training has been reworked to fit the medium. “In the virtual sessions, we have a live instructor and classroom presentation, previously used in our in-person mobile classrooms, modified for online training,” explains Debbie. “We include videos, so trainees get to see real life events and the do’s and don’ts when encountering certain situations. Training also involves constant follow up with surveys, polls and quizzes to keep the drivers engaged.”
Debbie notes that driver training for commercial trucks through the company’s Center for Transportation Safety is particularly important given the current shortage of drivers. “Here too we had to make some modifications to having classroom training, but the on the road training still requires an instructor in the vehicle.
“As a result, we have a list of COVID safety protocols that we follow. Every student gets tested before attending the training. Our instructors all wear masks. And so far, everything’s worked out great, but the heavy-duty arena is a little bit different than the light duty.
Pros and Cons
Both in-person training and virtual training have pros and cons, according to Debbie. In an in-person classroom, the trainer has one hundred percent of the drivers’ attention with no distractions, but the chance of spreading the infection in a small, mobile classroom at the height of COVID was high.
Fortunately, virtual training includes knowledge checks to ensure that learning is effective. “We quiz the drivers throughout the virtual session,” notes Debbie, ‘including a longer quiz at the end to make sure that they’ve retained the material.”
Even as the pandemic danger has ebbed, virtual training is replacing our standard classroom training. Students take the virtual classroom portion of the training first, and then when they report to the behind-the-wheel training site, they only need to complete the driving exercises.
Virtual Training Becomes Preferred Among Drivers
While many companies have instituted travel bans and are only returning slowly to pre-pandemic travel levels, virtual training is the best option. Some are participating in both the virtual training, and then behind-the-wheel training thanks to Driving Dynamic’s contact-free behind-the-wheel training protocol. This innovation allows drivers to train in their own vehicles without getting out of the vehicle as instructors communicate with them through the vehicle’s FM radio. “We already had the technology in place, so it gave us an advantage in quickly responding to the need for no-contact training,” notes Debbie.
Overall, Driving Dynamics’ virtual training has received plenty of positive reviews from drivers. “A lot of drivers enjoy the flexibility,” says Debbie. “They also appreciate that our instructors are so knowledgeable. We have instructors with extensive backgrounds in racing and in law enforcement. Students find the real-world experiences and unique perspectives engaging. Drivers have told us that they walked away with collision-saving ideas that they can use as soon as they get back in their vehicles.”
The percentage of satisfied training participants is impressive with 72% of drivers preferring the virtual classroom over the face-to-face classroom. Debbie believes that an important reason for the favorable response is the convenience. “They don’t have to set aside a whole day for training,” she notes. “Drivers can complete the two and a half hours of virtual training and then get on with the rest of their day.
Debbie notes that Driving Dynamics will work with its customers to strategize the most effective training scheduling and logistics going forward based on the latest driver feedback.