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Sitting a worker down in front of a computer screen for safety training is definitely part of our future in environmental, health and safety. Let’s explore some of the issues in this new world of electronic, or e-training. First, let’s define what we’re talking about.

In general, computer-based training uses some type of multimedia (such as a compact disc) or an Internet browser to deliver individualized training to the worker at a computer workstation. Well-designed modules provide a consistent and standard form of content delivery. Feedback to students allows them to advance through a lesson at their own pace, provided that questions are answered correctly.

Modules are often constructed in short sections that have a progressive form of content that builds on prior learning within each module. Key elements are established and appropriate questions asked to confirm the user’s understanding.

All of this can work well with many individuals, but what are some considerations that you should address before moving into the high tech future?

Before you decide…

Many firms are moving to computer-based training due to these perceived cost-savings:

  • limited travel for trainers;

  • reduced training time for completing each course;

  • downtime that might be reduced by bringing in individuals one at a time rather than group training; and,

  • possibly eliminating some trainers and their own preparation time.

Some organizations claim multi-million dollar savings over the course of several years with computer-based training, but it seems that the focus of this training is more closely associated with learning for professionals, as opposed to the safety of the general workforce.

If you’re strongly considering moving forward in a big way with one of the new forms of computerized training, get your in-house information technology professionals heavily involved. The overall vision and goals of implementing this type of training must be clearly established. Hardware and software requirements need to be well-defined.

A host of questions must be answered:

Can your entire workforce benefit from e-training, or only a small portion?

What kind of e-learning will be best suited for your workers?

How much customization of learning modules can your organization afford?

Can individuals learn well enough from pure narrative information, or must visuals (pictures, streaming video with sound) become a significant component of the learning experience?

Are some of your employees resistant to using a computer?

What types of orientation may have to be provided to overcome resistance within various groups?

Do you have a sufficient hardware infrastructure in place (computers with adequate memory and peripheral equipment such as CD drives, Internet access, workstation set-ups conducive to learning, etc.)?

What about your security needs?

Do you want training content to reside on your company’s server, or on a host’s server?

Just one component

Most professionals I talk with believe that the various forms of computer-based training should simply be viewed as one component of an effective training program. E-training offers learners a change of pace and a different way to be educated. But it doesn’t allow for social contact with co-workers (and the trainer) in the very direct fashion that takes place in traditional classroom training. This interaction is a necessary part of learning and the overall teambuilding that is so important today.

Also, learning exercises at a computer workstation might involve distractions usually not associated with classroom training. Workers might come and go during a session, use the telephone, or tend to e-mails. Keep in mind that OSHA has stated that computer-based training needs to be supported by a trainer if additional information is needed, or if questions have to be further clarified.

Suitable applications

What training topics are best suited for computer-based delivery?

Safety professionals that I discussed this question with believe that traditional compliance refresher training, such as hazard communication, lockout/tagout, or forklift training, fits well into the e-training model.

Also, a mature workforce with previous hands-on and classroom training seems to be best-suited for using software learning modules as a refresher. Younger workers more comfortable with computers might take to e-training more easily, but new employees with little safety-related experience might need the reassurance and support of others that can be initiated through classroom training and reinforced on-the-floor.

It’s difficult for me to envision e-training as the sole source of safety education for a workforce, but it can be viewed as one tool that gives you flexibility and some creative options within your training system.

Evaluate your audience

If you want to expand your e-training efforts, first evaluate the perceptions and needs of your workforce or “student body.” Draw up a brief questionnaire and use sensing sessions to gain a better understanding of their attitudes toward computer-based training versus classroom training. Find out what your employees really think about training content and delivery, and the best ways that they learn and retain information. Use a good cross-section of employees to obtain a balanced range of opinions.

And get on the Web and search out e-training companies. You might be surprised how many you find — both pure dot-com content providers and old school bricks-and-mortar training vendors who have moved into e-training.

Sidebar: Take advantage of tech tools

Six ways to enhance your training

By Kenny Oldfield At a recent meeting of health and safety trainers from several organizations, I heard the leader of one of the groups say their policy is black and white: computers have no place in the classroom. They are committed to worker-led, small-group activity training, and see computers as detrimental to the learning process.

This anti-computer philosophy is probably a bit extreme to most of us with training responsibilities. We may not be comfortable with turning our students over completely to computers and the Web, but we can see the value of computers and technology as tools in the classroom. Here are some of ways you can use computers to enhance traditional classroom training.

1 Presentation software

We’ve all endured training courses where the instructor drones on and uses faded black-and-white overheads with too much information. Thankfully, those days are gone. Presentation software can be used during lectures to incorporate color images, motion, sound, and even video clips to sustain interest. Software such as Microsoft’s PowerPoint makes it easy to create slide presentations.

Advanced presentations can be created with software like Macromedia’s Director Studio. This program creates “movies” in which information is presented on a “stage” and can be directed interactively. Trainers using Director movies can allow discussion to follow different paths and quickly move back and forth between topics. One note: Director does require more time and effort to learn than the simple slide presentations created with PowerPoint.

2 Digital cameras

You can modify presentations easily in order to customize training for different groups using a digital camera. Digital photos are loaded instantly into computer files without having to be developed or scanned. This means you can demonstrate a standard procedure using pictures of the actual equipment from your facility. Students relate the training to their jobs because examples come directly from their workplace.

3 Video

Why not break up a presentation or emphasize a point by inserting a short video clip directly into a slide? Video footage describing an actual incident or problem can relate a technical point to reality. It can also set or change the mood of a training course.

We’ve found that short clips inserted into a presentation are often more interesting than longer training videos. To work with video clips as computer files, you’ll need to connect a VCR to your computer via a video capture card. The computer files created are pretty large (as high as 40 MB), though some file formats create smaller files.

A word of caution about presentations: It’s easy to become so excited about the technology that you put too much into a presentation. Color, sound, and motion all can be attention-getters, but too much of it can become distracting. The result can be an entertaining show in which your message gets lost. To prevent this, establish solid training objectives and be sure that all elements of your presentation satisfy them.

4 Web resources

You can incorporate computer software and Web sites as information resources for small group exercises. For instance, EPA’s CAMEO / ALOHA software is intended to aid in planning and managing hazmat emergency responses. It includes an excellent chemical hazard information database in the Response Information Data Sheets (RIDS) that you can use in other chemical exercises. This software can be downloaded for free from EPA’s CAMEO Web site. (http://www.epa.gov/ceppo/cameo/index.htm) Once downloaded, the program can be run from a computer in the classroom whether or not there is Internet access.

If your classroom has Internet access, there are many chemical information Web sites. One link is the Chemfinder.com Internet search site. (http://chemfinder.camsoft.com) This search engine pulls together search results for a specific chemical from hundreds of databases. This is truly “one-stop shopping” for the chemical, physical, and toxicological properties of a chemical. Trainees can search for hazard information as part of a classroom exercise.

Resources like these enhance traditional training by providing information. Participants work together to locate information and solve problems, so interaction with peers is still the key to learning.

5 Learning games

We’re always looking for new ways to make our required annual refresher training interesting. One favorite among our trainees is the use of games. A program called Gameshow Pro (www.learningware.com) creates custom learning games with formats based on popular television game shows. We’ve created games based on the show Jeopardy® that have been particularly popular. And, a version based on the showWho Wants to Be A Millionaire®is now available.

Users can create their own questions and answers that adequately review your required material. The game is run on a laptop and projected onto a screen. The class should be divided into teams and good-natured competition will make even dry topics fun, which helps with team building and group interaction.

6 Virtual reality

Virtual reality allows us to bring actual hazardous waste sites into the classroom. The Laborers-AGC Training and Education Fund, a labor-management training cooperative, has developed a number of “virtual locations” and “virtual objects” using readily available software. They use a digital camera and Apple’s Quicktime VR® to create a virtual training site. Trainees see the site on the computer and can pan around 360 degrees, zoom in and out, and even jump to another spot for a different perspective. This software also allows trainers to stage health and safety problems within photos so trainees can spot and correct them.

No special helmets or goggles are needed, and the image can be projected onto the screen for classroom demonstrations. This allows you to transport trainees into dangerous areas or scenarios without actually being exposed to the hazards.

The benefits of Web-based learning are being widely touted these days, but my training experience has shown that people still prefer the human interaction of a traditional classroom setting. Why not combine both methods? There are many ways you can use computers and Internet technology to enhance training in a traditional setting.

Kenny Oldfield is an industrial hygienist and full-time trainer with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Workplace Safety Training Program. He and his colleagues have published Effective Safety and Health Training, a text that can help old and new trainers use participatory training methods to make training both fun and effective.

Sidebar: Online safety learning

You need interaction — and here’s how it can happen

By Marc Press It’s a common question in safety departments these days: “With the advent of online safety training programs and distance learning courses, how important is interaction between instructors and students during training?”

The answer is resoundingly “very important!” When you get down to the basics, online learning is all about interaction between teachers/instructors and the student. The formal term for this is computer-mediated communication (CMC).

Here are three types of instructional online communication:

  • E-mail allows a student and a teacher to engage in one-on-one give-and-take;

  • Discussion forums, also called “bulletin boards,” allow group interaction to take place;

  • The third type of communication is the ability to have some type of real-time conferencing.

    For more information, search out “Module 2: Introduction to Online Learning & Teaching” at http://learning.waldeninstitute.com.

    Technically, interaction can occur in two ways. One is called asynchronous interaction, which means that people can use it anytime. This includes e-mail and discussion forums. The other type, synchronous interaction, involves real-time conferencing and requires everyone to participate at the same time. Asynchronous online instruction usually works best for students and instructors because it does not require anyone to be at a specific place at a particular time.

    Let’s take a look at how students interact in online courses. Jay Alden, in a 1998 article, described these four methods:

  • Students interact with materials,

  • With the instructor,

  • With other students, and

  • With subject matter experts.

Not all online courses will offer all four types of interactions, but the more interaction that a course offers, the more effective the online class will be.

Interacting with materials

In an online course, a student can interact with learning materials in many ways. Similar to computer-based learning, online students can answer true/false or multiple-choice questions and get the correct answer immediately. They can respond to situational scenarios or case studies, and again receive immediate feedback. Here’s another learning situation: The learner is shown a picture of a widget part, and must identify the part.

The key to interacting with learning materials is the ability to receive immediate feedback on answers. This is all done without an instructor in a classroom.

Interacting with instructors

The only significant difference between how an online student interacts with an instructor compared to classroom meetings is the physical presence of the instructor in face-to-face situations. Here are some of the ways it works:

  • Just as in the classroom, an online instructor can ask questions of a group and select one student in the group to answer, or wait for anyone in the group to answer. On the other hand, the instructor can ask questions of an individual student.

  • The question can be asked either publicly (in the group) or privately (communicating directly with the student).

  • Conversely, students have the ability to ask questions of the instructor.

  • Exams and quizzes can be administered.

  • Papers or projects can be submitted and reviewed by the instructor.

  • Do you remember meeting with a teacher after class to get “extra help” with a difficult concept? Well, it’s possible and often encouraged to meet privately online with an instructor “after class.”

Interacting with other students

Group projects or exercises are certainly possible for online students. The instructor can make these assignments, and students can work as a group on their own, in a study group, or in a monitored setting with the instructor. Students can post their work and have other students in the class comment, offering suggestions.

Key to successful learning

Whether you’re in a traditional classroom or sitting at a computer screen, interaction makes your learning experience active rather than passive. Interaction provides feedback — one of the most important aspects of a successful learning experience. So, is interaction between instructors and students important in online learning? You bet it is!

Marc Press is with the Christian Health Care Center’s Training Center for Basic Life Support, which offers CPR courses as well as other programs. The Christian Health Care Center is located in Wyckoff, NJ. Marc can be contacted at (201) 848-5200; Marc@chccnj.org