Listening to Experience: 10 Steps to Successful Online Training

April 8, 2004
How do you reap the benefits of online training while avoiding the pitfalls that can derail a program? A safety training expert offers a proven strategy for success.

The environmental, health and safety industry continues to undergo a technological transition in the delivery of employee training. As technology advances, training delivery options are increasing. More organizations are exploring computer-based delivery platforms to increase the effectiveness of their training efforts especially online, Web-based platforms.

Yet choosing to implement an online training delivery format is a strategic business decision requiring the consideration of many variables. Buying an online learning system is not the same as purchasing a video training program or a PowerPoint presentation. The selection and implementation of an online learning system requires a strategy that must weight costs, functionality, technical specifications and desired objectives throughout your organization.

When implemented correctly, with clear objectives, online training can provide a significant return on the initial investment and advance the safety culture of any organization. For example, online education reduces training time, travel expenses for learners and instructors, and cuts learning facility costs. Online training also offers immediate and constant access to safety training materials. This makes scheduling training time easier. These and many other benefits content consistency, increased retention and customization capability make online learning an attractive delivery platform for quality safety training content.

Strategies for Success

Before you make the investment in any system or platform, you should develop a plan of implementation. Defining results expected from online learning is an essential part of the overall implementation process. Elaborating the specific benefits sought be they cost-savings, improved retention, easy delivery or scheduling flexibility must be a part of the overall process of outlining what constitutes results and success for your organization and its safety program. Having partnered with dozens of organizations, both large and small, which have implemented online learning systems, I can share with you 10 proven tips for successful implementation:

1) Establish Objectives. It is vital that any organization understands exactly why they are implementing an online learning program. What benefits is your company seeking? What do you hope to accomplish in the first year and beyond with this new format? By establishing specific objectives, you will have a blueprint available for step-by-step implementation of the system you finally chose.

2) Promote/Sell Up, Down and Sideways. Implementation of any online learning system requires company-wide promotions and participation. Every level of the organization needs to be communicated with concerning the benefits of online training. Explain the upcoming change in format to everyone so they can become comfortable with the idea. With advanced preparation and training, your workers will positively welcome the new training system. Convince your workers and management of the positive features of this new learning tool.

3) Make the Technology Invisible. Workers should experience a seamless interface with the online training system. No one should have to download any additional programs or materials to run the training program. A worker should be able to sit down in front of a computer and proceed directly to the training program. Programs should be easily accessed without any downloads or IT hurdles to overcome.

4) Know Your Audience. A company must gauge its workers' computer skills and learning abilities. Many industrial workers do not have advanced computer skills. Prior familiarity with a computer will help ease the transition to online learning. A brief overview of mouse, keyboard and basic computer skills could prove to be a helpful first step in overall training.

5) Make Sure the Training Has Value. Workers should understand the positive value of the training they receive. Can your organization provide incentives and positive reinforcement for the training? Do your workers understand the vital importance of the training they receive?

6) Have Someone Accessible During Training. An administrator or supervisor should be within reach to answer questions concerning the program or training materials. Knowing that someone else is readily available to assist alleviates some of the anxiety for many workers.

7) Provide a Learning Environment. In addition to having someone available to assist workers taking the training, it is also important to have the training take place in an environment that facilitates learning. The training area should be free of unnecessary distractions and provide a comfortable setting for learning.

8) Facilitate Time for Training. In order to maximize the training experience, adequate time should be set aside for the worker to complete all of the training necessary. Workers should be provided a comfortable amount of time for course completion away from workplace distractions.

9) Promote Feedback. In order to fine-tune the implementation of any online learning program, solicit feedback from all of those involved in the training process. You many want to establish a pilot program designed to gather feedback and comments from workers. You might want to send out a survey shortly after everyone has had an opportunity to train on the new system. The survey would gauge the workers' response to the new learning format and help you determine if any adjustments are required. Encouraging positive feedback will enable you to increase the effectiveness of the training itself.

10) Establish Criteria to Measure Success. What benchmarks do you have for your training program? How will you know if you have been successful? By establishing a set of training goals early in the implementation process, it is then possible to measure and document success along the way.

Summary

Online training is another tool for safety professionals, an integrated approach to protect workers in a cost-effective and efficient manner while delivering the business results expected. These benefits make online learning an attractive delivery platform for quality safety training content. Form the experience of those who have implemented these programs, the results have been extremely positive. Online training is capable of delivering a valuable return on your investment.

Technology is only a tool and decisions to use any technology must be made as part of an overall instructional plan. Changing training delivery platforms alone does not guarantee improved training results. Computer-based delivery cannot compensate for inaccurate content or a poorly structured safety program. Instructional design and content remain a key component of a successful safety training program. However, new ways of delivering accurate content, including the Internet, can enhance quality content and increase training effectiveness.

Bryan Hornik is director of sales for Summit Training Source. He has been with Summit Training Source for 13 years. Starting as an account manager, he moved into marketing and became vice president of marketing. In 2003, he became sales director, managing the sales efforts of the Traverse City and Grand Rapids offices. He can be reached at [email protected].

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