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Planes and Trains: Airlines Showing Training Content In-Flight

Written by Grovo

Late last year, American Airlines and JetBlue announced that they were partnering with Coursera to make educational videos available to passengers in-flight. For now the content looks to be primarily long-form MOOC courses, but the initiative is promising for all e-learning. If air travelers take to the idea of convenient, in-seat education, the nature of traveling could change radically.

“I just flew back from the East Coast yesterday, and the video playing was Dolphin Tale 2 or some video like that,” Coursera exec Julia Stiglitz told Inc. magazine in December. “What a great time to be able to learn something when you actually do have time and you can watch videos and learn something new.”

Grovo has nothing but respect for the Dolphin Tale franchise, but her point is spot on: air travel is a perfect environment for video training. It affords passengers the chance to uniquely focus on absorbing video content more than they can with half an eye on a screen at home or a hurried video training at work. Air travel is a rare environment in which passengers are allowed to be incommunicado to the rest of the world, and one during which they are confined, Clockwork Orange-style, to chairs that have screens pointing directly at them for hours. The video content that has been available in-flight until now—mainstream Hollywood movies and, recently, live TV—has generally been less than deserving of such committed attention. It’s no wonder that most passengers choose to sleep.

Video training could change all of that. Imagine if a flight meant taking in a full course on a subject for your own personal interest or, better yet, crucial professional skills. Video education integrated into air travel could be the new face of professional development: on-demand, learner-customized, and achievable with nothing more than the viewer’s attention. What could ease the drudgery of air travel better than some profitable, retentive skills training?

How microlearning can become an air travel staple

Right now, the content that American and JetBlue are offering are Coursera’s traditional videotaped college lecture courses. The 10 courses offered in this pilot program (!) seem geared more toward personal interest than professional skills: dinosaurs, climate change, astronomy, guitar playing. (Though, good luck fitting one in a coach seat.) The notable exception is “Introduction to Marketing” by the Wharton School’s Marketing department, who are certified Grovo favorites.

Interesting though the topics are, the courses themselves seem like they could improve in two ways. For one, they’re long. These are typical Coursera MOOCs, which means that they’re videotaped courses taught by professors in front of a class. A single course is weeks-long and involves lectures over an hour in duration.

The long length of courses is not ideal for a single flight, but it may be a response to planes’ weak network connectivity. As e-learning blogger Jonathan Haber notes, airplane WiFi is generally too overloaded to work well with data transfer-intensive learning products like Grovo. (Our whole performance management functionality is built on learners interacting with videos and submitting assessments in real time.) In response to the issue of weak WiFi, Haber thinks the airlines “will likely be solving this problem by making Coursera content available via the same local media system powering other in-flight entertainment.” This explains the feature film-length video trainings, but hopefully either the network capacities or the “local media systems” can grow to the point of allowing interactive learning content. This is when good, retentive training happens.

The second potential improvement is that the topics offered by the current Coursera classes could be oriented around professional skills. Given that the courses currently compete with movies and TV, it’s easy to see why they opt for general interest over professional development. But if the aforementioned network improvements can enable all-around better training, it would be great if Grovo-style training could be on the viewer menu along with traditional MOOCs and mainstream entertainment.

Think of the possibilities of microlearning content offered on a plane’s entertainment system. Passengers, even without personal computers, could design custom learning tracks in their seats and complete a few of them by the time they land. Business travelers could brush up on digital or professional skills en route to meetings; vacationers could learn about their destination by the time they land—casually, easily, and quickly. Micro content is modular and short, which means that content can be watched in any order and doesn’t take long to consume.

The full microlearning experience involves interactive content with self-assessments, but even if the airlines’ entertainment systems don’t allow fully interactive training anytime soon, microlearning content would still provide value for passengers. Developing professional skills is among the best use of time at any part of the day; spending idle hours in the air on the critically-needed skills development that modern employees need is even more profitable. Best of all, microlearning allows passengers to complete a full lesson track and still have time left over for Dolphin Tale.

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