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Flight Safety eLearning: How ‘Plane’ Is Your Ethics Program?

The eLearning community cruises to new heights by taking cues from the airline industry

By Rebecca Turco, Vice President of Learning, SAI Global

I recently traveled with a colleague to an off-site meeting and it seemed like the whole plane was doing the same, squeezing one or two more flights in before the end of the year. You could tell who they were. The seasoned business travelers knew where to place bags, how to negotiate overhead bin space and strategically slide a laptop or iPad into the seat pocket for in-flight work. This is all second-nature for the road warriors, myself included.

As the flight attendants worked through their typical pre-flight script, practically no one was paying attention: calls finishing, headphones at the ready, settling in for the flight. And when it came to the safety announcement, I only paid attention to see who wasn’t paying attention. It used to be the same bored monotony of a person speaking above conversation volume, miming procedures to follow in case of emergency. The likelihood of the scenario was the same. The order in which you should affix your own oxygen mask before helping others, the same. Could there be another way, retiring corporate videos flickering away on seat-back video screens?


Chicken or Beef?

I’ve traveled a lot for work and I’ve seen these demonstrations evolve, with some attendants inserting their own personality). While highly entertaining and effective, this isn’t repeatable and can’t be scaled.  But what if you turned it on its head? What if you radically changed the delivery of the safety information to make it interesting? Engaging? Could airline safety videos actually be worth watching?

source: Hilarious Southwest Flight Attendant (24M views)

Flip The Script

Take Air New Zealand as an example.  Buckling a seatbelt, affixing an oxygen mask … as instructed by Katie Holmes and Cuba Gooding Junior?! Featuring music performed by a New Zealand artist? And real New Zealand locations?

source: Fantastical Journey - #AirNZSafetyVideo

Now this is something worth watching!  Faces I recognize, upbeat music, fantastical sights.  Other airlines are getting on board, too.  British Airways built on this concept and produced a video incorporating world-famous stars and striking the balance between serious and funny. They use the humor to get your attention, and then hit you with necessary information. They produced a “Director’s Cut”, showing ‘outtakes’ from the final video. Is it engaging? You bet. From July 2017, it’s earned 7.9M+ YouTube views.

source: British Airways safety video - director's cut

So what’s different here? The same information is conveyed, but you’re smiling along, associating a brand with something new and interesting. You are engaged by the content , and … you are learning.

The Effect of Engagement on eLearning

When information like this is rote, it becomes mundane and, to a large extent, ineffective.  The same is true of required learning for your workforce. If the lessons are the same, the delivery mechanism unchanged, and there’s no variability in content, length, applicability, then efficacy will drop.

Air New Zealand, British Airways, and others found a way through. Engage the customer. Invite them into the message. Learning should be fun – even for the most serious of topics, like airline safety or workplace compliance.

Recorded videos can scale beyond that of live delivery, but they aren’t personal. We’re getting there with in-flight personalization, though. KLM allows you to network in the air, by offering you the option (not a requirement) to share your Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn profile for your flight to network with fellow passengers.

What if KLM (or any other airline) took that information one step further, and segmented one of a handful of custom in-flight safety eLearning videos that matched your profile? What if your total miles traveled (seasoned veteran vs. rookie) or seat location (re: exit location) could be factored into the learning experience? Imagine how much more relevant and applicable that information could be.  Instead of “the nearest exit may be behind you”, it’s turned into “the nearest exit is behind you, but you already know that, from flying with us more than 15 times last year.”

What if instead of passive learning, the airlines turned it into active learning? What if there was some sort of interactivity, like the trivia quiz games that are available on so many airlines? Instead of movie and Hollywood trivia, the airlines could quiz passengers on the best response in the event of certain in-flight activities to increase participation and attention.

Passengers lean in. They take notice. They participate. They learn.

A reward system could be set up fairly easily: an extra snack, priority boarding on a next flight, bonus miles. Some of these rewards are peanuts (sorry, couldn’t resist) for airlines to offer. We can incentivize participation through competition, acknowledgement, and rewards. We can engage the learner with emotions, interactions and game-design elements to make the learning sticky so that retention and recall are much higher than traditional elearning.


There’s no denying the appetite for online learning or eLearning. Khan Academy alone has delivered over one billion lessons worldwide, and the platform is used by 40 million students and two million teachers every month.


Tomorrow’s Lesson Plan, Today

The way we learn has changed.  We are bombarded with information. And that information is competing with shorter attention spans, our own personal devices, today’s “always on” workplace environment, and a desire (nay, a need) to unplug.  Boring, one-size-fits-all safety videos will increasingly get lost in the noise.

What about that mandated e-learning you have to do at work?  How engaging is that?  How entertaining?  Same input, same output.  The lesson plan needs to change. Things like rewarding learners who attain the knowledge of the risk and test out of the training.  Or simulated branching experiences where learners drive their learning path. Or bite-sized learning broken down into three- to five-minute content chunks that allow learners to access the experience when they want to.

What if we answered a series of questions, about our role within the organization, location, office/work-from-home, tenure, learning style, management responsibilities, and the like?  Think of this as the creation of your learning profile, and, once complete, your profile-based learning experiences are now served up to you in a personalized emotional manner, a manner where you receive content and learning experiences that are relevant to you.

Thankfully, I’ve never experienced a flight emergency or a water landing. I’d feel much safer knowing the people to my left and right know exactly what to do, though, because in times of crisis, you have no choice but to depend on the people around you. Imagine feeling that confident about the people you interact with everyday at work.