In the world of environmental, health and safety, organizations striving for safety excellence are seeking to move beyond simply complying with regulations to become champions of leading safety and learning practices in the workplace and beyond. The good news is that there are now many options employers can select to provide the very best training delivery method to meet organizational safety and learning goals for employees who range from Baby Boomers to Millennials.
While there always will be situations where hands-on training is necessary – for proper respirator fit testing or certifying an employee to drive a lift truck, for example – eLearning can be effective in situations where a message must be delivered consistently across a wide audience, or when travel or time constraints make delivering training in person unfeasible or otherwise challenging.
For well over a decade, eLearning covering a wide variety of EHS topics has been available to companies that want it. Many workers report that taking training online is preferable to classroom training because it’s streamlined, convenient and easy to access. Employers, on the other hand, like the cost savings typically associated with this learning method, which can help reduce travel and scheduling hassles. Employers also can track employee training for audit or OSHA inspection purposes when eLearning is delivered via a learning management system. The reports generated by the system can help demonstrate that a company was in compliance with OSHA training requirements.
However, eLearning done well can provide significant benefits beyond simply saving time and money and checking a requirement box. While some may fear that eLearning is less effective than classroom instruction, the latest research indicates that online education provides just as much benefit to trainees as in-person training. Common EHS topics such as hazard communication or slips, trips and falls easily can be introduced via eLearning, which allows employees to quickly familiarize themselves with the basics at a time that conveniently fits their schedule.
That said, combining instructor-led training with eLearning may provide the best results of all. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education recently went so far as to report that blended learning – a combination of live and web-based instruction methods –actually is more effective than sticking to a single mode of training delivery.
An eLearning component in your training toolbox does not have to take a one-size-fits-all approach. Many off-the-shelf eLearning courses are customizable, meaning that they can be edited to better meet the unique needs of an organization. For example, it may be possible to brand courses with company logos and colors. Workplace-specific images can be added, along with an organization’s proprietary policies, procedures and workflows. Even the simple addition of a video message from company leadership emphasizing a commitment to safety from the top down can have a powerful impact on safety culture and compliance and demonstrate to employees how training benefits them individually and collectively, helping ensure they give it the appropriate level of commitment and attention.
If an off-the-shelf solution – customized or otherwise – won’t work, there are eLearning development tools that allow managers to create their own training materials. Using smartphones, supervisors and employees quickly can capture video and photos to demonstrate good safety practices and add them to a presentation or training. Adult learners need to see the relevance of what they’re learning, and what better way to accomplish that than with in-house examples?
When employees with training needs are geographically dispersed, video conferencing software can allow trainees at different sites to connect with trainers or peers for learning and interaction. Live video sessions can allow groups to share good practices or findings from audits and investigations, letting the best ideas spread more rapidly throughout the organization and facilitating cooperation.
Similarly, social learning allows for rapid information sharing between peers and is highly effective when speed is a concern. Platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn create a forum for learning with an immediacy that appeals to younger members of the workforce, while allowing those with more experience to participate in the conversation as well.
Personal experience is a critical resource in learning. Connecting new material to what they already know helps learners engage in the learning process and feel connected.
Keeping Pace with Technology Helps Millennials Learn
As technology evolves in the workplace, it’s important for training to keep pace. Learning should not be confined only to a classroom or workstation. Demand for training via mobile devices like tablets and smartphones continues to grow and these tools are ideal for providing performance support on the go. Mobile learning typically is shorter than classroom training or traditional eLearning and tends to meet a specific need. This type of training has a great appeal for adult learners, who are by nature practical and results-oriented, because they immediately can apply what they learn.
Using technology and social learning effectively has the additional benefit of increasing the appeal to Millennials – those younger workers born between 1981 and 2000. For this generation, learning and technology always have gone hand-in-hand, and they particularly are comfortable with consuming training in the moment of need and on their latest device. This group also is interested in communicating its learning via social media, as well as exploring learning resources online. Just don’t forget to provide lots of feedback: this group needs to hear how they’re doing more than any other age bracket.
With this variety of training methods, how do you decide what is best? Let’s look at a practical example for a moment. A blended approach to training employees on personal protective equipment (PPE) probably will include instructor-led training to demonstrate how to put on and take off the PPE. It also may make use of eLearning to ensure all employees understand your organization’s policy on PPE and any necessary regulatory requirements. Employees may be asked to share with each other via social media the reasons why they always wear their PPE. Finally, job aids for specific items of PPE might be created so that employees can access them via QR codes at the job site on their phones or tablets.
There is no one-size fits all approach to training. Every topic, company and workforce has its own particular idiosyncrasies that may sway the approach in one direction or another. Now more than ever, training can be delivered in the way that best fits your organization: in person, online, mobile, social or blended. And that’s a great advantage for workers and employers alike.
Susan Murphy is UL WHS’s director of professional learning services. Murphy has more than 20 years of experience developing and delivering instructor-led and web-based training programs for a wide variety of organizations. She holds B.A and M.A. degrees in modern languages from the University of Oxford in England.