'Blended learning' and safety training

What is blended learning, and how does it apply to safety training?

Answered by Judie Smithers, editor, workplace safety, J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., Neenah, WI.

Blended learning means the instructional method incorporates a variety of techniques and tools to address different learning styles. Often, blended learning uses a combination of face-to-face and computer-based instruction.

Some people learn best when they take notes. Others need to discuss what they are learning. Learning styles include:

  • Seeing – Watching demonstrations and videos or reading print materials
  • Hearing – Listening to lectures or narrators
  • Talking – Taking part in group discussions or case study exercises or asking questions
  • Writing – Taking notes or quizzes and filling in workbooks
  • Doing – Performing demonstrations or drills and having supervised hands-on practice
A blended learning approach employs several delivery methods to engage each student's preferred learning style and provide variety. Even employees who do not like training enjoy this experience and learn material. For example, a software program that includes video clips, animation, narration, text, fill-in-the-blank exercises and quizzes has plenty of activities to keep employees interested.

Blended learning can be incorporated by:

  • Providing interactive computer-based training programs
  • Using slide presentations during lectures
  • Breaking up lectures with videos
  • Having trainees read material aloud as a group
  • Providing case studies or other exercises to stimulate discussions
  • Encouraging participants to take notes
  • Asking questions
  • Demonstrating how to do a procedure or use equipment
  • Allowing students to practice new skills
One way to blend computer-based training with face-to-face instruction is to ask employees to complete a computer-based program as an introduction before attending classroom sessions or beginning on-the-job training. When employees already know the basics, valuable classroom or on-the-job time can be devoted to workplace- and equipment-specific information.

The goal of training is to improve comprehension and performance. The effectiveness of a training program is especially important when safety is involved. Deficient safety training can lead to injuries. Blended learning conveys safety instructions in a way that leads to improved safety performance.

For example, a classroom or computer-based case study uses a hypothetical situation to let trainees safely apply new information on workplace hazards. Trainees learn to handle hazards without risking an injury. Similarly, videos and animation sequences visually explain hazards without employees directly being exposed. Another way to bring safety training to life is to encourage trainees to share their experiences with workplace hazards.

Demonstrations and practice sessions play another key role in safety training. An equipment or procedure mock-up or simulator lets workers get the feel of doing the job without putting them in harm's way. Later, when they begin the job, they have some experience in how to do it safely.

Guidance from OSHA indicates the agency supports a blended learning approach. An OSHA publication, "Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines," states: "An effective training program allows employees to participate in the training process and to practice their skills or knowledge. Employees can become involved in the training process by participating in discussions, asking questions, contributing their knowledge and expertise, learning through hands-on experiences and through role-playing exercises."

Blended learning is not difficult to accomplish, and you can even use it if you are only using classroom or on-the-job training. By using different approaches, you will provide effective safety training to all students.

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