October 1, 2020 / Ina Xhani

Expanding eLearning: More Options for Busy OEHS Professionals

Recently, AIHA University introduced new courses and events to its Fall 2020 education lineup. The new offerings include a virtual conference on dermal exposure assessment, an online version of the popular Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene (FIH) road course, a Women in IH (WIH) leadership summit, and an entire week of virtual professional development courses (PDCs).

We sat down with Erin Breece, AIHA’s program director of Education, and Colleen Manning, program director of eLearning, to learn more about the additions and how they will help busy OEHS professionals.

What was the inspiration behind creating these new online events?

Erin Breece (EB): AIHA has always offered a robust elearning program, but because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, audiences who would formerly have attended our face-to-face training are now interested in trying out our elearning offerings.

Another reason is the encouragement we received from hosting Virtual AIHce EXP 2020, which was well rated and highly attended. We wanted to build on that success and offer more virtual training for our members and customers outside of the annual conference.

Since the conference this spring was virtual, we had to cut the PDC program down from its original size, but we didn’t want that content to go to waste. Instead, we created Fall Virtual PDC Week from courses that were originally scheduled to be held in person this past spring. Our vision was to create a timely and topically robust program, where members could find a course that suits their current professional development needs.

Traditionally, the virtual FIH Road Course was held in person due to the type of hands-on equipment training it provided. But because the course has sold out multiple times every year in the past, we knew members would still need it this year as well, notwithstanding the pandemic. The virtual course will still allow attendees to get the training they need, while remaining safely at home. We will be creating demo videos of the hands-on portions of this course, and plan to offer an in-person equipment lab next fall, for which virtual attendance this year will be a prerequisite.

Colleen Manning (CM): The Dermal Exposure Assessment Virtual Conference, on the other hand, was built from the foundation of our successful Exposure Assessment Virtual Conference held in early 2019. It was designed and planned as a virtual event even before the pandemic. At AIHA eLearning, we knew that we wanted to continue the conversation on exposure assessment into 2020, and felt that specifically dermal exposure assessment was a priority area among our previous attendees. Just as the eLearning team was investigating who could help us develop this content, AIHA’s dermal task force contacted us asking to collaborate on bringing this topic to a wider audience.

What are some standout courses or sessions that you would like to highlight from the lineup?

EB: All of them! The FIH course has been rated highly for years, with its excellent trainers, who we trust to put on a great interactive virtual program. Virtual PDC Week will also consist of six highly-rated courses from recent years, along with one new course taught by seasoned PDC instructors. Likewise, the first WIH Leadership Summit was a true success story, and we’re excited to build on its momentum and the accomplishments of this relatively new volunteer group.

CM: As for the AIHA eLearning Team, we’re most excited about the structure of the Dermal Exposure Assessment Conference. It’s designed for busy professionals who might not be able to step away from their other responsibilities for a full day—so the conference is scheduled as four two-hour sessions spread throughout two weeks. Each session will provide firsthand experience with interactive tools that learners can use to perform their own assessments on the job. This structure allows learners to practice between sessions, giving them the chance to test what they have learned before they return to the group to share their findings.

This year is unique in that AIHA University has offered so many exclusively online educational events, mainly due to COVID-19. Do you see this trend continuing after the danger of meeting in-person has passed?

EB: Yes, I think that now that everyone has been immersed in a wholly online environment due to the pandemic, attendees’ eyes have been opened to how interactive and fun online education can be. When we are “back to normal,” some people may still return to in-person trainings, but I do think that virtual training sessions will remain popular.

CM: I agree with Erin: I think many people miss learning and networking in person, but we have also realized how much can be efficiently done in a virtual setting. Once we return to our new normal, I hope that we see more educational opportunities offered both in-person and virtually, so that learners can participate in the way that works best for them.

    What are some tips for making the most of these virtual education courses?

    EB: Use the chat feature! Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You can learn a lot from your fellow attendees: we’ve seen attendees get answers and even help on struggles at work from instructors and each other through the session chat features. Many attendees at past PDCs have requested the chat logs from their classes, as they have found information to be helpful that was posted there during the course.

    CM: I would also suggest spending time before the course reflecting on your specific learning objectives related to the topic. Understanding what you need will make you a more active participant in the experience, as you will proactively seek relevant information in the course and in the chat discussion.

    What are some of the benefits of learning online?

    EB: One of the biggest benefits to online learning is that session attendees have access to recordings of the course. This allows them more flexibility; if something comes up, they know they can go back and view what they missed. Or they might re-watch a particularly difficult portion of the course to gain a better understanding of the material. As I mentioned previously, attendees using the online chat to network with each other throughout the course is another great benefit, where they may have the chance to interact as much as they would in person.

    CM: I agree, the ability to connect with instructors and other participants via the online chat is a main benefit, and so is the flexibility offered by online learning to participate from wherever an attendee might be working, and the reduced risk compared to meeting in person during a pandemic. I don’t know that an online learning environment is inherently better, but right now it’s the safest option, and in general it’s more flexible given that the logistics are easier to coordinate on the attendees’ ends.

    How do you network in a virtual setting?

    EB: Participating in an online chat may not seem, to some people, equivalent to the conversations they would have in person at an event, but for others, the online setup is actually better. It allows attendees to continue dialogue during a class without interrupting a speaker. The chat also allows for a bit of anonymity, so attendees who may be nervous to speak up in an in-person environment can feel more confident about engaging with the group.

    To register for and learn more about the new virtual events and courses AIHA University has lined up for this autumn, visit us here.

    Ina Xhani

    Ina Xhani is AIHA's communications specialist.

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