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Online versus classroom training

March 1, 2011

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Which is best for safety training – online or classroom?

Answered by Scott Wallace, production manager and authorized OSHA trainer, Summit Training Source Inc., Grand Rapids, MI.

Although we wish it were an easy “yes” or “no” answer, the fact of the matter is that one training format is not better than the other. The type of training you use is going to be specific to your needs and the topics on which you are training. The most important aspect is the quality of the training. According to adult learning theory, training must be engaging for the student and include: 

  • Clear learning objectives
  • Content focused on the stated learning objectives
  • Content tailored to the students
  • Interaction between students and the training curriculum
  • Application of knowledge in real or typical scenarios

To best determine the right training format, ask yourself these questions about your resources and your training population:

  • What technology do I have available at my location? Do all of my sites have the same technology? Are the students familiar with computers?
  • How many shifts do I have at this location? Is it feasible to bring employees into the classroom in groups? Does individual, self-paced training make scheduling around production time and shifts more efficient?
  • Is my student population widespread? How important is the consistency of the training information?
  • What is the students’ current knowledge level of the subject?
  • Do all of the students speak and understand the same language?
  • Is this initial or refresher training? How often do I need to train on this subject? How many employees am I training at a time?
  • Does my topic require hands-on training to meet compliance with regulations or standards?   

Online training offers significant benefits in relation to cost savings, especially for large organizations or widespread employee groups where scheduling or travel can be cost prohibitive. However, online training that does not include interactions or multiple media designs to engage students in the learning is ineffective. 

When online training is produced at top standards, it allows students to begin applying the skills they learn via interactions. Because the online learning environment allows students to begin applying knowledge during the course of learning, online training may result in noteworthy time savings.

Classroom training fosters more group involvement, team building and team problem-solving during the learning experience. Classroom training also allows for real-time instructor-to-student interaction. However, this may be prohibitive for students who are intimidated by asking questions or “saying the wrong thing” in front of their peers. 

For many tasks in the safety industry, a class/laboratory approach works well. The class portion can take place in a classroom or online, with the lab section taking place in the field. Some professionals use a blend of online and classroom learning for initial and refresher training. No matter the format you use, engaging students in learning will offer the best results and return on your investment.

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