Why Does Some Online Training Fail?

The answer is really quite simple. The expectations of what can be accomplished with online training are out of alignment with reality. Oh, now that sounds brilliant! Let me explain.
In the past, safety training was most often delivered in an instructor lead format, whereby the information was delivered by an informed person and in an interactive format. Ideally, the instructor designed the course with learning objectives and delivered the content in a fashion that helped the employees learn. During the course, there would be checking questions, and at the end some sort of learning exercise was administered. The instructor was able to validate that learning took place and that the objectives were met. If not, they could provide additional help where needed.
Unfortunately, this isn’t and wasn’t the real world. In most situations safety training does not receive the planning necessary to make sure the course is delivered in a quality fashion. Time is often the overriding issue, though knowledge of the subject may also get in the way. For more than 10 years, and now since the “great recession”, safety professionals and anyone involved with safety training is being asked to do much more with no more time in which to do it. All too often this results in scheduling training, but not really doing any meaningful planning until the last-minute. Then, that planning involves finding the video, making changes to the PowerPoint, and making copies and handout and quizzes. Where is the time to think through discussion points and how to make the training interesting with games or other activities? You guessed it.
So now along comes online training. Wow. You can load the employee names and other information into a learning management system, assign courses and due dates, and then sit back and shift the responsibility for training to those being trained. How cool is that?! In many cases that I’ve witnessed that’s exactly what’s done. The result is very predictable.
Online training fails because you can’t shift the responsibility for learning to the employees. You can, but it isn’t going to work. Oh we can make sure they took the necessary courses that were assigned, when they were to be completed. And we can measure whether they passed the course, but did they learn anything? Were any of the learning objectives achieved? (what learning objectives?) How well was the information retained? And most important, are they following what was taught a week later, or can they react properly in an emergency situation?
Online training can actually increase retention of information and everyone take the same course so there is significant uniformity. From a compliance viewpoint, the retention factor and uniformity features, coupled with the record keeping offered through a learning management system can make the use of online training great. However, if it doesn’t improve safety it’s worthless.
So what can you do to make online training more successful? Think of all the benefits of uniformity and assurance that everyone has taken the training and passed a test. Then, go back to the basics. Provide some discussion points for the supervisors to use in short safety talks. Ask employees to fill out a short description of what they learned. Develop emergency drills that measure how well employees react in an adverse situation. Create a game that you can play one on one to see how people react and how much they learned. Observe how everyone follows the safety procedures and tie it back to the training.
Those who are most successful with the implementation of online training have taken the same approach as those who still use the instructor lead method. They established learning objectives, delivered the main learning content online verses by verbal instruction, figured out the best way to engage the employees and help with learning, and then doubled back to see if the training made any difference. I think that if you follow these simple guidelines your online training will succeed and you will find much better safety results.