Taking submarine video training to new depths

March 31, 2019

Groton — Submarine training can be no laughing matter. One wrong move could cause a world of problems when it comes to fixing critical systems or dealing with safety issues.

So training videos to teach these important skills to submariners tended to be somber, straight-laced, rather dry affairs.

That is, until Melissa Root came onboard.

Root, a New London resident known locally for introducing teachers to video self-modeling techniques that support learning for special-needs children, came on the radar of U.S. Navy officials when they decided to try to boost the effectiveness of submarine training videos by using a more scientific approach.

In August 2018, the Navy contracted with Root’s company, Root Success Solutions LLC, to evaluate and help upgrade the training videos using her doctoral-level knowledge of educational psychology.

“What I was not confident of was whether we were making videos as well as they could be,” said Lt. Cmdr. Reginald Preston, who is director of submarine on-board training at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base.

Video experts at the base had been making training videos for about two years, Preston said during an interview March 20 at the Groton facility, with the idea of providing “ready, relevant learning” about a wide range of technical subjects, including maintenance, weaponry, mechanics and damage control.

But the videos they were making tended to be long, sometimes seven to nine minutes, and were rather formal, by-the-book accountings of the best procedures from some of the leading naval experts. What the training video-makers needed, Root told them, was shorter, more visually attractive fare that would grab the attention of young sailors used to YouTube entertainment.

“The goal is under three minutes,” Root said. “We want it to be conversational.”

“We needed to show the thing, not just teach the thing,” added Senior Chief Petty Officer Rafael Arriaga, a navigation electronics expert who manages video-training projects.

But Root pointed out that training videos would work better if they took the point of view of the person using the equipment rather than someone teaching its use. That way, sailors could put themselves in the picture and envision how they would accomplish the task.

“Using first-person perspective is simplifying things for the brain,” she said.

“My sailor is more confident now,” Arriaga added. “It’s almost like they did it.”

Root also helped sub base video producers edit out extraneous material and break down technical jobs into smaller parts, which facilitates learning. By doing so, she helped reduce one fire-safety video from nine minutes to about two and a half minutes.

Aware that the visual and auditory systems must work together, Root encouraged the use of warmer colors in training videos, a more relaxed, conversational narrative and better-timed visuals, with text produced on the right side of the screen and images on the left to correspond with the way the brain works best.

“These are good video folks,” Root said. “I just gave them some language to use — not only how, but why.”

“We were kind of winging it before,” Arriaga said.

Make no mistake, this is hardly Hollywood fare. The videos, some suggested by junior officers and junior enlisted personnel wanting to learn specific tasks, are mostly about technical accuracy.

There are no plotlines, not even any makeup, but Root has convinced on-camera officers doing the training to “show some teeth” and try to make an emotional connection to the subject matter. The video team, which includes some civilians, now uses storyboards to plan their videos, with both visual and audio sections.

Preston said his team used to take several days to shoot a series of training videos, but now with preparation the time has been cut to somewhere between two and three hours. And that is important with more than 300 videos already having been produced and perhaps the same number left to complete.

“Now we can produce these products in weeks versus months or years,” Preston said. “We have yet to find someone who doesn’t love it.”

Videos are distributed every six months to the fleet, Preston said, and can be accessed aboard the ships using a special intranet-like onboard communication system. The on-board training program, he added, is part of the base’s Submarine Learning Center that serves as the headquarters of U.S. submarine training worldwide.

Preston said there is evidence that the videos already are saving the Navy time and money, because sailors are not struggling as much to learn complicated tasks and fewer repairs are having to be redone.

“As soon as they see the videos, it just clicks,” Arriaga said.

And the video team, after some initial resistance, has really taken to the new way of shooting and editing, he said.

“It’s almost like a conversion,” Arriaga said. “You have to do a couple to know how to get it done.”