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March 10, 2015

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The hidden cost of safety training

e-learning

The time taken to complete an e-learning course is a crucial factor in assessing the true cost of safety training, says Chris Horseman.

When evaluating health & safety training, most organisations will ask whether staff have gained the knowledge and skills they need to carry out their roles – and then they’ll factor in the cost of the training. But this simple combination of price and effectiveness ignores a very important aspect: how long the training actually took to complete.

Safety training is often seen as a compliance issue: something that has to be done and documented. The constant drive to secure value for money has led many organisations to choose e-learning for their health & safety training. The great advantage of an e-learning course is that it’s a consistent and reusable resource that large numbers of staff can utilise at the point of need. E-learning also saves time over classroom training, particularly when travel is required, and you can keep a record of who has successfully completed each course.

When they’re choosing an e-learning course, most people don’t consider its duration. However, the longer an e-learning course takes to complete, the more it ‘costs’ you – and the more people you train, the more significant that impact becomes. For example, if you have 10,000 staff who need to go through five safety e-learning courses, every ten minutes extra they spend on each course will cost you over 1,100 man days! That’s nearly £65,000 (if we use the living wage of £7.85 an hour outside of London for 7.5 hours per day). Yet few organisations take account of this when calculating their return on investment from safety training.

Having established that you can make a significant saving by choosing e-learning courses that take ten minutes less to complete, the obvious next question is: can a shorter e-learning course be equally as effective? The answer is: yes, it can, if it takes account of how people learn.

Accelerated learning

Instructional design is the term used for making learning experiences effective and engaging. Rooted in cognitive and behavioural psychology, there are recognised principles for the instructional design of e-learning courses. For example, courses should include positive modelling of ‘correct’ behaviour and learners should be allowed to practise applying and using their new knowledge in different scenarios, with tailored feedback and positive reinforcement. An effective e-learning course will engage people’s attention quickly and retain it by establishing relevance as well as maintaining interest and pace. The learner will also have some degree of control over his/her learning.

Instructional designers are now adopting techniques borrowed from ‘accelerated learning’ to enhance e-learning. Studies into how the brain works show that we each have our own preferences when it comes to learning. In other words, there’s a style of training that suits each of us best. If the training we’re given matches our preferred style, we learn more naturally. Importantly, that also means we enjoy the experience more and we learn quicker, hence the term ‘accelerated learning’.

Accelerated e-learning courses on health and safety are now available, covering topics such as workplace stress, control of substances hazardous to health, office safety, manual handling, fire, driving, working at height, first aid and display screen equipment. These courses are faster to complete than traditional e-learning courses, yet still as effective, because:

– They appeal to both sides of the brain. The left-hand side of the brain is logical and analytical and it ‘thinks’ in words; whereas the right-hand side of the brain is involved in creativity and thinks in images. Accelerated e-learning courses use a combination of audio, text, graphics, animation and photographs to achieve impact and memorability by engaging both sides of the brain.

– They don’t waffle. Accelerated e-learning courses are structured to deliver memorable learning messages in the shortest possible time. They stay focused on the subject and relevant to the user’s needs. For example, it takes time to explain how to set up a desk and workstation. It’s much faster to show a workstation that’s set up badly, allow the learner to interactively adjust it and give them immediate feedback. Also, by stripping out any superfluous content or ‘fillers’ in a course, you can cover the same ground in far less time.

– They include a mix of content that helps learners to retain the knowledge and apply their new skills. Some accelerated e-learning courses come with interactive eBooks that include risk assessment checklists, vital safety information and reminders. Allowing people to carry these details with them on their phone or tablet, and instantly access them when needed, not only reinforces the learning, it demonstrates that you’ve taken a proactive approach to their safety.

– They overcome the boredom factor. Health and safety training needs to be completed annually but it can be boring for people to cover the same ground each year. Refresher versions of accelerated e-learning courses are available with a pre-test that helps each learner to assess their own knowledge and determine what they don’t know. They’re then given an express learning path through the specific aspects of the course they need to cover. This means that the course can be completed in even less time. Also, people are less likely to resent having to undertake the training if the course recognises and takes account of what they already know.

Several accelerated e-learning courses can be customised to suit an organisation’s specific policies, culture and branding. Some even have a post-test that assesses the learner’s understanding of the content; those who ‘pass’ can print a certificate of achievement from RoSPA.

So, when you’re evaluating your health and safety training, don’t forget the ‘hidden cost’ of the duration of your e-learning courses. Ask yourself: is there a better way of doing this? Because, ultimately, delivering the same training in significantly less time is better for your employees, better for their managers and better for the business.

Chris HorsemanChris Horseman is an e-learning expert with more than 25 years’ experience of running interactive learning companies, including Xebec McGraw-Hill and Balance Learning. He co-founded Engage in Learning in 2011 and has developed a new range of accelerated e-learning courses called Safety Faster. You can find out more at www.engageinlearning.com

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