June 18, 2020 / Roger Marks

Is Online EHS Training the New Normal?

Sponsored by Lion Technology, Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made training an even bigger challenge than usual in 2020. When facilities closed, employees stayed home, and public gatherings ceased, professionals in need of routine safety or hazardous waste and materials training were left with one option: online education.

I spoke with Jennifer Harris, an OSHA-authorized trainer with twenty-five years of experience in adult education, about how to create effective online courses for industry professionals.

Self-Paced Learning

One of the biggest strengths of online learning is that trainees can pause and replay content as needed until they have mastered a concept or topic, an approach called self-pacing. Unlike a classroom course, in which (typically) a single instructor must meet the needs of students at different learning levels, an online course offers an individualized experience.

“Some people sit down, turn the phone off, and take a full course in one sitting. Others finish a couple of lessons in the morning, and then go about their normal routine. You can take it in a way that works for you and your schedule,” said Harris.

Engagement and Interaction

Instructor engagement and instructor-student interactions help maintain the trainees’ attention during an online course, Harris said. Without some form of engagement with each other or the trainer, students begin to zone out, even in the classroom.

“Even a very basic question with a simple answer can reinforce a topic or alert the trainee that something important was missed,” Harris explained. “If you are not challenged with a question or activity, you might never know you missed something.”

Keeping Content Up to Date

Up-to-date course content is another key to successful online training programs. If a trainee is presented with information that is clearly outdated—even just one sentence or footnote—the rest of the information in the course will be called into question.

Employees should learn their job’s latest requirements and best practices every time they undergo training. Regulations constantly change, and online courses should be updated accordingly.

Need-to-Know vs. Nice-to-Know

One hallmark of effective online courses, Harris said, is balancing two types of knowledge: that which students need to know, and that which is nice to know.

Every course should include all the information that is needed to meet the federal or state standard the class corresponds to. But the best courses are those that provide additional, optional resources for the “nice-to-know” information.

Supplementing the class with extra information makes it more valuable for those who want to delve deeper into specific topics, and does not slow down those who just need the basics.

Questions and Answers

Asking questions is a critical part of any learning experience. Whether in a classroom or online, students should have some means to ask questions to a real person.

“Whether there’s a chat box, an email address, or a button built into the training interface, every student should be empowered to ask questions and get answers,” Harris said.

Online training is not only a convenient substitute for classroom-style seminars but a separate learning format that offers many unique benefits. Before you choose an online course for yourself or your employees, consider factors like the provider’s reliability, your desired engagement level, and the supplementary features offered with the course to find the right one for you. If these aspects are considered, industry professionals training online for the first time this year may find it more engaging and useful than they expected.

Jennifer Harris is an instructional content developer with Lion Technology Inc., a leader in environmental safety and hazardous materials training in the United States. Jennifer is an OSHA-authorized trainer and holds a masters’ degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Roger Marks

Roger Marks is a content writer with Lion Technology, Inc. His work has appeared in Hazardous Cargo Bulletin.


Upbeat look at online training, but does it work for all types of training?

Thank you Roger and Jennifer: As a longtime member - and current chair - of the AIHA Communication and Training Methods Committee, we have often examined this issue. In fact, we actively supported the newly released ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 Standard on Online EHS Training (https://blog.ansi.org/2018/10/ansi-assp-z490-1-z490-2-standards-training/). For many training topics, online training is a valuable approach, but for some topics in-person and hands-on training are still considered more effective methods. A recent example is demonstrated by the awardee of the AIHce2020 Margaret Samways Best Student Poster on Training and Communications Methods (https://aiha-assets.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/form-uploads/AIHce-Karen-Segura_200528_005658.pdf). It is possible to consolidate this known information and the available technologies to create effective training for these more 'how to' trainings - there are many options out there...BUT most of the online training I view does not go the extra mile, i.e., does not provide virtual experience, student video display to the instructor of competence, etc. We - as a profession - need to do better. Respectfully, Susan Marie Viet, PhD, CIH, FAIHA

By Susan Marie Viet on June 23, 2020 6:26pm

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