One of the many lessons safety pros learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the value of good online safety training.
The ability to keep essential workers up to date on safety requirements while social distancing or remaining completely remote proved to be an invaluable tool.
Pandemic forces creativity
“On March 11, 2020, we were working in our offices. The next day we went remote because of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Noreen Cleary, Chief HR Officer at USG, at the National Safety Council’s Virtual Congress 202One.
The pandemic forced Cleary’s company to get creative until they could figure out how to adapt to the “new normal.”
“Our philosophy is that safety isn’t something that we have to make time for. It’s always included,” Cleary said. “And safety training is always present for our company.”
USG had been using online training as a supplement to in-person training, but because of the pandemic the company found itself leaning on its online program to meet its safety training needs.
Must meet stringent standards
However, online training alone isn’t enough, so USG committed to ensuring its training met the stringent standards called for by its safety program.
So how can safety pros make sure their online training programs are effectively reaching employees?
According to Marilyn Hubner, the managing director for Buildup Research, an Australia-based safety training company, it comes down to three things, which she shared at the American Society of Safety Professionals’ 2021 conference.
Focus on learning objectives
The first thing Hubner says to do is focus on learning objectives. Make sure they are:
- focused, and
If the learning objectives are good, they’ll satisfy this general question: At the end of the training, do the participants know the training objective or not?
Safety pros need to know whether or not the trainees understand the training. For example, trainees could be asked to list three risk management principles once the training is over.
Other questions to ask regarding how good the online training’s learning principles are include:
- What is the benefit of the training?
- How does this improve safety?
- Is this mandatory training required by OSHA? If it is, be sure to let trainees know why it’s mandatory. For example, “This training is mandatory because (number of) people died from this last year.”
Activities should be built in
Just because online training doesn’t have everyone sitting in the same room together doesn’t mean trainees should just be watching a screen.
You want people to be active during training, Hubner says. That helps them to retain what they’re learning.
But the same activities shouldn’t be used over and over, it’s best to mix things up with a blend of games, online polling and on-screen demonstrations.
“Find an item” activities are especially good as they get participants up and moving around. This gets them a quick stretch and the trainer a short break.
Make sure they’re engaged
The most important thing for any training, whether it’s online or in person, is that trainees are engaged.
As everyone learned during the pandemic, “Zoom fatigue” is real and conducting online training can make a safety pro wonder if attendees are paying attention or not.
Attendees can become distracted during online training, so it’s best to think about ways to reduce those distractions ahead of time.
For training sessions that aren’t live and that see trainees working at their own pace, design the module so they need to regularly use the mouse or keyboard to do something.
If the training is a live online session, then use the four minute rule, which says you should focus on one thing for no more than four minutes.
Hubner said combining these two types of training, synchronous live training with asynchronous recorded training, also gets better engagement from attendees.
This is called blended learning, something colleges have been doing for awhile, she said.
It also helps to start strong, so trainees know right away what the learning objective is, and end strong, to help them retain what they’ve learned.
And the finish should have a call-to-action: What do you want them to do after the training has ended?
What to avoid
There’s good and bad in most everything, and online safety training is no different.
So what does bad safety training look like? According to Hubner, there are five things that can make online training less effective.
Sometimes online training gets too deep into the weeds for its own good.
“With the technology we now have, we try to take a complex topic and turn it into online training, expecting people to pick up on the subject matter,” Hubner said. “People have trouble picking things up from just listening and reading.”
To repeat, or not to repeat?
Repetition helps retention, but when concepts are repeated online it seems like the same things are being covered endlessly, so the audience checks out.
If you don’t repeat enough, though, attendees may have a more difficult time remembering, so trainers have to walk a fine line.
It’s too long
Some online training can last for hours. Even if it’s live, hours of looking at a screen is too long.
Regular work involves occasional distraction. That’s normal. But in training, the expectation is for attendees to be “in it” the whole time. That can also be problematic for the trainer who may have a hard time keeping engagement levels that high without everyone being in the same room.
A good method to help mitigate this sort of training fatigue is “microlearning,” which is a short learning activity, according to Vector Solutions, a company that specializes in safety training.
- are usually no more than five minutes in length
- can be mixed in to help break up longer sessions
- can be used with spaced practice, which involves giving learners time to begin to forget training before reinforcing it, and
- act as performance support while on the job.
Not thinking about the audience
You have to think about your audience when developing online training.
They might have distractions, or maybe they’re lacking in technological prowess.
So try to keep in mind that if you’re asking trainees to share their screen on a Zoom call, for example, not everyone may know how.
Not considering audience experience
When training is conducted with everyone in a room together, it’s possible for the trainer to gauge whether or not attendees know some of the material.
Then the trainer can ask some preliminary questions, and skip some material if the attendees already know it.
But some online training crams all of the information into one module with no consideration for the audience’s previous experience, which results in a lot of wasted time for the attendees and the trainer.