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How Ascend is using immersive learning for driver training

Post Date - Apr 24, 2023

This article was originally published on truckinginfo.com.

By: Deborah Lockridge

If you’ve ever watched drivers nod off in the classroom during a safety training session, you’ll understand the challenges that Ascend’s safety, orientation, and retention execs were looking to address with a more immersive, interactive, online training program.

Regional and dedicated dry-van carrier Ascend was formed in early 2022 with the merger of Milan Supply Chain Solutions, based in Jackson, Tennessee, and J&B Services, based in Pontotoc, Mississippi.

When Safety Manager Josh Anderson started working at what was then Milan about seven years ago, the company had just a few hundred trucks. Today, it’s more than 1,000.

“We had to find a platform that could sustain that growth, and future growth,” he explains.

It was another acquisition, of Greenville, South Carolina-based Dedicated Transportation Solutions, or DTS, that exposed the Ascend team to the immersive system from Luma Brighter Learning.

“We do monthly safety training for our drivers they’re required to complete,” Anderson explains. Although the company had previously been using another training provider, they were looking for something better, something that drivers would retain and even enjoy. The interactive Luma system seemed like a good fit.

“We found it offered things that we needed to be able to complete the vision we had in our mind,” Thompson says.

For instance, Luma allows the Ascend team to have control to upload its own custom content. And it offers more reporting options so they can see more detail on completion rates and time spent on certain projects.

“Our previous provider was just a video,” he explains. “A driver would watch for five minutes and go about their day.”

With the new system, he says, “You’re more involved in it, which gives you ownership of it. They’re more engaged; they’re having to click on different things.”

As an example, he cites the “safety nugget” on placing emergency triangles. The driver actually has to drag and place the triangles on the screen to the correct position.

“Not only are they listening to it and seeing it, but in a sense, it’s giving them a practical application where they’re having to do it,” even if it’s in a virtual context.

While it’s hard to determine the exact cause of reduced accidents, Anderson says since implementing the Luma system mid-2022, accident frequencies have been trending down month over month.

Better new driver orientation

Of course, monthly safety meetings aren’t the only time such a training platform is needed. Ascend wanted to develop a streamlined, hybrid orientation process and needed to find a platform that could support that.

Ronnie Presley, Ascend vice president of safety and retention, says, “Once I heard from DTS about Luma and the capabilities, I thought, this offers a platform to allow us to convert a three- or four-day orientation down to one to two days, which would make drivers happy. They want to come and get started working, instead of keeping them in classes all day.”

Anderson created Luma eNuggets on safety, which drivers can complete before they arrive at orientation. That eliminates wasted time and allows more face-to-face interaction during the shorter onsite orientation.

“Using Luma makes learning fun,” says Jeffery Thompson, Ascend orientation leader. “A driver doesn’t want to sit and watch a video on something they already know. But when you make that fun, short, and stimulate their brain in different ways, that’s what drivers seem to enjoy.

“You go to an arcade to play the games, not to watch everyone else,” he adds.

In addition to videos, the Ascend team can create interactive immersion learning modules using still photos. A photo of the inside of a truck cab, for instance, could have buttons located on various items in the cab; if a driver taps a button, information pops up describing what that particular thing does. A series of photos taken around a truck could walk a driver through a pre-trip inspection.

One of the pain points that the Luma system has been able to address is training drivers on electronic logging devices. Thompson calls the results from Luma “astounding.”

“I can take a driver who is struggling with, or wants more training on, the ELD system after the presentation training in orientation and send them the immersive training in Luma for them to complete," he explains. "This gives them a life-like feel of the ELD unit and the functions it has.

"The next day they come in and tell me the training was awesome."

Thompson adds that this same approach can be used across the fleet for numerous types of training.

Using Luma to do part of the orientation training and paperwork has played a part in improving its show rate percentages.

“If the driver commits to doing those nuggets, instead of just telling a recruiter, ‘I’ll be there,’ they’re more likely to show up for orientation," Thompson says. "This year we’re at a 96% show rate." This process also demonstrates to new drivers Ascend's commitment to driver safety.

Customized and personal training

One of the features the Ascend team liked about the Luma platform was that they can create the content and load it into the system themselves.

“We talk about being a people-first culture here at Ascend, and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits I love about creating our own videos and making it part of that," Anderson says. "It’s not just some paid actor that’s creating a video. So many times, when we go into orientation, they say ‘You’re the guy from the video!’ Before they got here, they’ve already made a connection with the company, not just the recruiter they talked to on the phone.”

The Ascend team is already thinking about what it can do with the system in the future.

For example, the company is in the process of building a system where every power unit will get a unique QR code. The driver will be able to scan the QR code and gain access to tractor permits, cab cards, insurance documents, anything they would need during a roadside inspection.

When asked if there were any challenges involved in adopting the new training system, Anderson said It took a lot of manpower and time to actually create the videos.

“Once we created them, the process of getting them uploaded is easy," he says.

In Ascend’s case, Anderson already had video editing skills. He suggests that other companies looking to create a similar training program “find someone that knows how to edit and make videos.”

Other than that, challenges were minimal, and the Ascend team said Luma's customer service was excellent in helping them through the few there were.

Source: TruckingInfo