Closing the gap: enhancing driver awareness through e-learning

A local initiative by provincial Canadian police has resulted in a national programme to provide training to deal with the problem of officer - involved collisions on Canadian main roads. R.A. Sandy Sweet reports.

Of the many advantages that e-learning offers, one of its greatest qualities is its ability to overcome vast geographical distances to deliver essential training consistently and efficiently.  And here in Canada, we know all about vast distances.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is a recent training event initiated by the Ontario Provincial Police.  In 2009, the OPP was becoming increasingly concerned about the number of officer-involved collisions on Ontario highways.  Between 2000 and 2008, the OPP suffered the deaths of seven citizens and six officers, countless injuries, and more than $15.1 million in vehicle losses and repairs as a result of officer-involved collisions.  While some of these incidents were unavoidable, many were preventable.  It was clear that a ‘get there safely’ message was imperative.  In response, the OPP mandated a force-wide campaign to increase officer awareness about safe driving practices. 
To give this undertaking some context, the OPP is one of the largest police forces in North America.  It has more than 6,100 uniformed officers, 2,700 civilian employees, and 850 auxiliary officers.  Its jurisdiction covers more than a million square kilometres of land and waterways, an area larger than France and Spain combined.  Its command structure consists of 154 detachment and satellite locations, administered by five regional headquarters.  On an annual basis, OPP members drive an estimated 166 million kilometres.

CPKN is the hub for online police training in Canada.  We are a not-for-profit agency that works directly with the Canadian police community to identify, design, and develop online training for a national police and law enforcement audience.

Given the sheer size of the organization, it was clear that in order to reach every OPP officer in a timely, cost-effective manner, e-learning was the only practical option.  Enter the Canadian Police Knowledge Network.  CPKN is the hub for online police training in Canada.  We are a not-for-profit agency that works directly with the Canadian police community to identify, design, and develop online training for a national police and law enforcement audience.  Because the issue of officer-involved collisions is by no means limited to any one service or jurisdiction, it was only logical to build a training program that could be used by any police officer in the country.  Furthermore, because of its national relevance, the training qualified for development funding through the Canadian Police Sector Council, an agency mandated to help policing organizations implement innovative solutions to human resource planning and management challenges.

In early 2010, the OPP assigned two subject matter experts (SMEs), Staff Sergeant Chris Whaley and Sergeant Kent Taylor, to work with CPKN’s design and development team to create an online course that would enhance officer awareness and improve ability to make good decisions while driving.  Both of these individuals have extensive experience in driver safety and the OPP’s collision reduction strategy and worked closely with the CPKN team through every step of the course development process.  Starting with an in-class presentation developed by S/Sgt. Whaley, the SMEs created content around risk management techniques, human factors, managing distractions, and improving self-awareness.  The CPKN team then applied pedagogical principles and interactivity components to ensure an engaging and effective learning experience. Like all CPKN training products, the Preventing Officer-involved Collisions course followed a rigorous development process and was subject to various levels of quality assurance, including a peer review where other subject matter experts from across the country were invited to evaluate and provide input on the course.

Six months later after the project began, the course was released.  As part of the funding agreement with the Canadian Police Sector Council, it was offered at no cost to any Canadian police or law enforcement agency for a four month period.  During this time, close to 12,000 officers successfully completed the course, including nearly 6,000 from the OPP.  Feedback collected from learners during this period was overwhelmingly positive.  Out of 3000 surveys, 80% of respondents indicated that they learned new skills in this course that they could apply to their jobs; 76% believed that they will be more effective in their job as a result of taking this course; 91% stated that online learning worked well for them.  Many learners reported that the course was a good refresher that got them thinking critically about their habits and attitudes toward routine patrol driving.  Based on these responses, this course clearly hit the mark.

As a mandatory training event for OPP members, the OPP achieved a 94% compliance rate in 4 months, a feat that would be virtually impossible using a traditional training model.  As part of a larger collision reduction strategy, this training will be an important benchmark in the review of future collision data.  The OPP is also considering using this training for all new hires.

This example demonstrates the value of e-learning at many levels.  Firstly, as a means to reach a broad, geographically-dispersed audience, e-learning is clearly the most effective option to drastically reduce delivery times, regardless of an organization’s size or the scope of its operations.  Secondly, e-learning facilitates the delivery of consistent information and messages that are not skewed by individual presentation styles or interpretations.  This is an incredible advantage when communicating fundamental facts, concepts, and practices.  Of course, building any skill requires practical, hands-on application, but e-learning serves as an ideal foundation and knowledge ‘leveler’ for many subject areas.  In terms of cost, online delivery significantly reduces, if not eliminates, the costs associated with traditional training models.  While not typically factored into budgets, lost productivity is perhaps one of the highest costs associated with training.  However, e-learning can reduce training times by up to 60%, allowing officers to spend more time on the job than in the classroom.  There is also much evidence to support that the training itself is as effective as, if not more so, that traditional models.  In addition to the feedback from learners, studies have concluded that for many adult learners, the ability to conduct self-paced, self-directed study results in higher retention rates and enhanced learning.

When you consider that this is just one of many courses currently available via CPKN, it is impossible to calculate how much time, money, and effort has been saved by eliminating the replication of training among individual agencies.

From the CPKN perspective, this initiative is a prime example of what a centralized exchange for training can do.  What began as a remedy to a localized issue was expanded into a national training opportunity, benefitting thousands of police officers and other law enforcement personnel.  By sharing its knowledge and best practices, the OPP has produced a training resource that can be accessed by the policing community, as a whole, for years to come. When you consider that this is just one of many courses currently available via CPKN, it is impossible to calculate how much time, money, and effort has been saved by eliminating the replication of training among individual agencies.  Conversely, it is equally difficult to estimate the number of officers who will benefit from training that otherwise would not be available to them.  With that said, we don’t feel that CPKN is a replacement for in-house training units, but it is certainly a compliment to established training regimes.

Partnerships with organizations like the OPP are a core component of the CPKN model.  To date, we’ve done similar collaborations with nearly twenty other police services, training academies, and agencies throughout Canada.  At present, our catalogue consists of nearly sixty training courses on a wide range subject areas, specifically designed for frontline officers. 

The use of e-learning among Canadian policing agencies is continually expanding.  And while there is still significant room to grow, the Canadian community is certainly leading by example.  And, here at CPKN, we’re very proud to be a part of that.

 

R.A. Sandy Sweet is the President of the Canadian Police Knowledge Network.

 

Photography: Ontario Provincial Police Car © Wladyslaw - Wikipedia.org

 

 

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