In this time of change due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, there have been many operational changes in every industry. One of the things that changed significantly has been how training has been delivered regardless of the topic or the audience. In the recent past, training was, primarily, conducted in-person, both the Instructor and students. Now, with the guidance from the CDC to limit gatherings to small groups with physical distancing, sanitizing requirements, and wearing face coverings. CDC guidance and OSHA guidance strongly recommends working remotely if possible. This guidance has brought virtual training to the forefront now as a necessity not as just one of those things that will eventually come around someday.

Virtual training, for this article, is live training with students, not in the same room, building, state, or even country as the Instructor with class interaction being through a virtual platform such as Zoom, GoTo meeting, Cisco WebEx, Teams, or similar platforms. The students may not be in the same room with each other as they may be in different offices in the same building, or at home, or spread over different states.

For most companies, participating in virtual training is not a significant financial investment as it can be done on individual laptops or tablets by simply downloading an app. However, it is a significant financial investment for the training organization which may be a company or an independent Instructor. Because of the significant investment, many elements need to be considered before the investment is made.

One of the biggest questions is how long will this pandemic last. How does the length of the pandemic have anything to do with the investment in virtual training platforms? The consideration is will virtual training catch-on and be the “new normal” or will it fade away as “just a phase” when we are back to “normal” after the pandemic is declared over. Will there be enough time to get the return on investment needed to make the initial investment worthwhile? Another consideration would be will virtual training continue to be used in a significant manner after the pandemic is declared over.

As an Instructor and training organization, there are many things to consider and a lot of things that we will need to learn as virtual training is further developed and implemented.

Is virtual training good for only the classroom part of training or can we incorporate hands-on training and evaluation of hands-on tasks in a virtual environment? For example, there is a classroom instruction requirement for the initial training of forklift (powered industrial trucks) operation, then hands-on operational instruction, then an operation evaluation. So, how do Instructors conduct the hands-on operational instruction, then conduct an operation evaluation? There are many more examples and situations of this challenge that need to be addressed to determine the best method or methods to conduct the hands-on evaluations in a virtual environment. Other things to consider as Instructors include do require the students to supply their own materials and equipment for the demonstration/evaluations? Is it as easy as having the student stand close to their laptop webcam or tablet camera or phone, or require the student to provide another separate camera on a tripod for hands on demonstration?

The length of training time is another challenge. For many safety training classes, the students are the workers that are not accustomed to sitting in a classroom for four or eight hours at a time staring at an in-person Instructor so how can we expect these same students to do the same though by themselves staring at a laptop or tablet for four or eight hours? We may need to consider how training is delivered virtually. Instead of doing the classes in long blocks of time in one day such as four or eight hours or even longer time, can we break the training up over shorter periods of time over numerous days? Will the days be consecutive or over a series of weeks? How do we ensure that the students attend all of the days of the class and what do we do if one student misses one of the classes? When the Instructor is an employee of the company for which the training is being conducted, the situation may be just an inconvenience however if the training is an open-enrollment class, how does the Instructor train one student in a make-up class? If we do the training in long blocks in one day, we will need to make sure the students get short breaks about every 60 to 75 minutes which may lengthen the class.

Virtual training will need to be interesting and more interactive than regular in-person classroom training using virtual break-out rooms, whiteboards, trivia/polling programs, and encouraging more discussion. This will force the Instructor to specifically interact with individual virtual students which is not a bad thing for the Instructor to do anyway. Calling on students by name and encouraging students to talk during training to share experiences and discuss situations or review case studies are all elements of adult learning that will make the class more useful to the student.

Some of the answers to the challenges that we face with virtual training will be based upon the audience to which the training is being provided, some will be based upon what works best for a specific instructor or training organization, and some will be answered simply through trial and error. There is a consensus standard for e-learning, which includes virtual training, that provides a system, information, and helpful appendices for resources when developing e-learning. The standard is ANSI/ASSP Z490.2-2019 “Accepted Practices for E-Learning in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training.

For more information, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP
Sr. Consultant/President
RJR Safety Inc.