Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and so many other companies sell their smart mobile devices and services to people in the Asia Pacific region
The market is large and still growing. These devices are often used to facilitate learning, even if this is only a Google search type of self-learning. But could they also be used for a more formal learning about railways? The answer is obviously yes but the real question is why isn’t this already happening?
One of the problems is that education system in general is still very rooted in a paper based learning. Kids at school might get an hour or two a week on an iPad (my daughter certainly does!) but most of the learning involves a book supported by a duo of pencil and paper.
There is some progress visible as more ‘edu apps’ and games appear to support maths or language skills. At a university level however, there are very few courses that offer digital or at least a blended (digital and analogue mix) form of rail education or training.
What are the barriers to digital learning in rail? Is technology mature enough? Or maybe it is a human factor that delays the education system from fully embracing the digital world?
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Most likely the answer is more complex as digital learning requires relevant content presented in a user-friendly way.
It would not be a problem to put a bunch of slides online and let students read them. It is a challenge to put a good quality complex course together, though. There are platforms that support such initiatives e.g. Coursera (www.coursera.org) or Future Learn (www.futurelearn.com) or EdX (www.edx.org).
They offer online courses in English open to all individuals where a course provider (often a university) is presented with a set of tools and templates to start with. Whilst this forms the basis of a great idea, completion is still a long way.
Currently, EdX offers a course in railways (‘Railway Engineering: An Integral Approach’ by TUDelft) while the others have few transport-related courses on offer only.
Here is where we realize that it is not just a lecturer, but a good media team that is needed to build and deliver such an online product with a variety of interactive tools, such as videos, audios, tests, slides, etc.
This obviously costs time, money and effort. Luckily, the benefits of such courses are slowly being recognised as something worth investing in. An online education system called ‘High Speed Rail Learning System’ is being developed in the US as a prototype to encourage online railway education.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides an online MS degree in civil engineering with a specialisation in railway transportation. WebRail in Australia offers rail industry training. UIC has been working on an online offer, too. More universities and training providers started developing an online content for their prospective learners.
We should be demanding and expecting more online education in rail, and soon! If we are to educate the next generation of railway professionals, we should be using their language and their tools to facilitate their learning process.
An online path of education looks unavoidable, so let’s start talking about digital education in rail. First, we start talking, next we start acting.
Dr Anna Fraszczyk is a Visiting Professor at Mahidol University, UIC Railway Talents Ambassador and RailUniNet secretary
Email: [email protected]