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Taking Training Virtual…Or Not

24 Jun
Online Training

Environment / Food Safety / Safety / Technology Enabled Business Solutions

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Over the past several months, many companies have had to prioritize business activities given restrictions on travel and social distancing guidelines. Despite these restrictions, however, certain compliance activities are still required, including training.

Training is a key component for maintaining ongoing compliance—whether with regulatory requirements, supply chain mandates, or internal policies. While some training can be postponed, putting training on the backburner can have its consequences, ranging from unprepared employees, to noncompliance, to preventable injuries or worse.

Much like with audits, there are alternatives to meeting training requirements and ensuring employees are well-instructed and prepared to do their jobs, even with current government and/or company restrictions. Online and virtual training are not necessarily new options, but their popularity is most certainly on the rise. In-person, online, and virtual training can all provide quality options if you understand your training needs and understand what type of training works best in different scenarios.

Face-to-Face

As we have experienced, sometimes there is no substitute for doing things face-to-face. For certain types of training, in-person is clearly the best alternative for a number of reasons:

  • It is designed for people who need to genuinely know the material inside and out and for those who would benefit from a more tailored, interactive learning experience.
  • With in-person training, learners are able to ask specific questions and get them answered immediately.
  • In-person training provides a focused, immersive learning experience, where attendees can have interaction, discussion, and live input.
  • Trainers get to know attendees and can adjust training (e.g., material, learning speed, examples) to the group’s learning style.
  • In-person training allows attendees to develop relationships with the trainer and other attendees, which can prove beneficial on future projects.

As many organizations have discovered, particularly lately, while in-person training may offer a great alternative, it is not always possible. Beyond travel and social distancing restrictions, in-person training can also be cost-prohibitive. In addition, scheduling of in-person training can present more challenges, as timing is based on the instructor and is not flexible.

Best suited for: Multi-day classes where demonstration of competency is needed, and participants are building skills they will use frequently; introductory classes where participants need to understand new material.

The Online Option

At the other end of the spectrum, we have online training (not to be confused with virtual, which is discussed below). Online training involves an online module that allows participants to watch and/or listen to a pre-recorded class. Generally speaking, online training works best when individuals already know the material (e.g., refresher training) and is most appropriate when the attendee does not have to be an expert in the subject matter (i.e., awareness level vs. functional expertise).

In addition, online training is generally cheaper since it is not customized and does not require travel or an onsite trainer. It can also be faster and more flexible, as attendees can work at their own pace and have the ability to pick their own schedule.

While there are certain benefits to online training, it is not suitable for all types of training. Because online training does not involve a live instructor, attendees are generally unable to ask questions effectively and there is little opportunity for follow-up input on areas covered. This is no opportunity for hands-on learning and interaction. For example, something like 24-hour HAZWOPER training would be difficult to do as an online course, as a hands-on component is valuable in helping participants demonstrate competency, as required. Finally, because of a potentially diverse audience, online training tends to be generic and not tailored to the specific needs.

Best suited for: Courses where participants have had many, many years of experience and just need refreshers, such as HAZWOPER 8-hour, DOT General Awareness, or RCRA refresher training.

Taking It Virtual

Finally, virtual training provides a bridge between online and in-person training. Like online training, virtual training is done via technology (e.g., Zoom, WebEx); however, it takes place live with instructors engaged in the training as it is occurring. Virtual has many of the same advantages as in-person training since it is being done live. Learners can get more in-depth training and benefit from live interaction, questions, and discussion to help develop specialized expertise. Virtual training works best when travel is limited but students still need to have real-time input from the instructor.

That being said, virtual training cannot completely replace in-person training. With screens, it may be difficult for the trainer to read the crowd and accurately interpret learning needs. Hands-on opportunities become more limited—though not impossible—and require cooperation, coordination, and open-mindedness from all attendees. Finally, technology and logistics are critical for this type of training. A computer with good internet access is critical. If internet connections are slow or sound quality is poor, training can quickly become ineffective.

Best suited for: Refresher training (as with online options), more detailed training that can be customized to the specifics of the class (i.e., site-specific, industry-specific), or training for those with less experience who may need to ask questions.

Consider Learning Styles

People learn very differently. Some people are aural learners and can hear material and develop understanding. Others are visual learners so just reading material on a screen “sticks.” Others are tactile learners and need to participate in physical interaction to understand content. It is important to keep this in mind when choosing the best platform, as well:

  • With in-person classes, all learner types can be addressed. 
  • With online classes, typically only visual learners retain the information unless there is audible training coordinated with the material. 
  • With virtual learning and coordination with the site prior to the training program, all three learner types can be addressed. 

While some training can be rescheduled with minimal impacts to the business, many training requirements cannot. Companies need to know their workers are retaining the information, particularly given OSHA requirements that employees must demonstrate understanding and competency. To ensure that training not only “checks the box” but is also effective, it is important to evaluate not just the training, but the delivery options. In-person, online, and virtual all have their strengths based on the training needs and individual learning styles.

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