E-learning powered by training management software reaches employees who work remotely or in different locations and is the reason why distance learning became an invaluable tool during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The urgency to train employees on new workplace safety rules presents challenges for many Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) managers and corporate leaders. Digital learning platforms, centrally administered through training management software and systems, have become essential tools for companies and institutions in their efforts to deliver information and training quickly and effectively to employees. Online and blended-learning programs help workplaces reach employees no matter where they’re located.
However, effective e-learning programs require a strategic approach to the use of technology, content delivery and course development. The introduction of microlearning—the ability to deliver training content in short bursts of information—has elevated the way organizations conduct distance learning. It’s a way of presenting complex topics in an engaging way and without overwhelming workers.
Online Learning Connects Workers
E-learning continues to grow in the corporate world. In 2022 it is reported that 93 percent of global firms are switching to online learning. Research shows 59 percent of talent developers who responded to a LinkedIn survey in 2019 said they spent more of their budget on online learning than they did three years earlier, and 39 percent said they spent less on traditional instructor-led training over the same timeframe.
Training leaders are already realizing the benefits. Online learning can cut training time by as much as 60 percent, according to a survey from Adroit Market Research. Less training time allows employees to focus on their primary job functions. The report also notes that e-learning may increase knowledge retention by as much as 60 percent.
Another advantage of e-learning powered by training management software is the ability to reach employees who work remotely or in different locations. It’s the reason why distance learning became an invaluable tool during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in Asia and other regions, where travel restrictions and remote work polices were in place much earlier than other parts of the world, distance learning led to many benefits beyond the ability to deliver content. These included a greater sense of community, purpose and focus for employees who were unable to connect with their co-workers in person. Distance learning also encourages globally dispersed employees to feel more collaborative as they take courses together in virtual formats, such as videoconferencing and instant messaging.
Training Management Software Underpinning
E-learning is usually underpinned by training management software or systems – technology that does the grunt work. These systems eliminate the need for paper files and spreadsheets and they are used to oversee, digitally plan and track workforce training, deliver insights into training schedules and performance, and improve training delivery and efficiency.
Training management software and systems also allow companies to administer workplace and compliance training, provide internal and external e-learning scheduling and course management plus automate training workflows, such as course requests and approvals.
Check out Intelex Training Management Software for a deeper understanding of the features and functions of these systems.
The Microlearning Advantage
Cloud-computing technology is a major factor contributing to the growth of the e-learning market. Cloud-based programs offer various features and are easier to access than software-based programs. Artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, machine learning and wearable devices are also allowing organizations to provide a more interactive experience for learners.
Training management software helps organizations administer e-learning programs and provide content to workers. But it can be a struggle to achieve the full benefits of online learning if organizations don’t tailor programs to meet the diverse needs of workforces.
The average employee has 24 minutes in a week, or 1 percent of a total work week, to learn, according to professional services experts, Deloitte. This means workplaces that simply deliver standard one- to two-hour lectures via online platforms can quickly lose employee attention and engagement. Lengthy training sessions can wear on employees and the results can be costly. Distracted or inattentive trainees may miss critical information about proper health and safety procedures. Their failure to retain information can lead to fines, injuries and high turnover rates. This is where microlearning comes in.
Think of microlearning as training in small steps. For example, an in-classroom crash course approach to safety topics with many regulations, such as energy isolation, often leaves workers overwhelmed and EHS managers frustrated with the results (control of hazardous energy was the seventh most frequently cited standard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2021). In a microlearning environment, workers follow a journey beginning with the first step they must know in order to perform a job function properly, oftentimes using short videos, podcasts and infographics.
Bulletins: Bringing Microlearning into Focus
Microlearning leverages similar technologies that workers are accustomed to in their personal lives, especially millennials and Gen Z workers. The use of social media and mobile devices has changed the way employees expect to receive information in the workplace. Of those responding to a Pew Research Center survey, 86 percent of millennials indicated they use social media, compared with 76 percent of Gen Xers and 59 percent of baby boomers.
One of the key aspects of a successful microlearning experience is the ability to drive engagement using tools like the ones many people use in their daily lives. It’s a learning process built on the concept of cognitive science, which involves spaced repetition to access an employee’s “working memory bank”—where the brain temporarily stores information.
For example, a microlearning experience may include quick messages, like a social “tweet,” that workers can access from an app. These 200- to 300-character “bulletins” can explain how to sanitize equipment, for instance, and then ask workers to click a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” button to indicate whether they understand the lesson. If the employee doesn’t understand, he or she can click a link that leads to more information.
By using training management software and systems, organizations can track responses to see which workers have reviewed the training sessions and how many employees clicked links for more information. This helps managers determine whether they need to tweak the program or conduct additional training.
Common Challenges with Microlearning
Microlearning should be viewed as a complementary part of an overall learning and development system rather than a replacement for traditional approaches. Highly technical or complex training subjects may still require a classroom setting, especially in areas that demand more in-depth knowledge.
It must also be viewed as a process that follows a cohesive journey. Other key challenges to consider include:
- Age gaps: Older workers may have less familiarity with social media, videoconferencing and mobile apps.
- Time-zone differences: Workers in different parts of the country or world may not all be available for live training events at the same time.
- Lack of focus: Videos are powerful tools but must be relevant to the topic. Random videos that don’t follow a training sequence will be less impactful.
- Lack of validation: Without a way to measure success, organizations have no way to determine whether their training programs are effective. Training management software can be helpful in this case.
- Security issues: Workplaces must protect highly sensitive training information outside of the corporate headquarters to ensure training on proprietary methods and systems is safe.
While challenges exist, organizations can adopt best practices and standards to ensure they reap the full benefits of the microlearning/distance learning environment.
Checklist for Digital Learning Success
A strategic approach to microlearning and distance learning positions organizations to increase their chances of success. Here are 10 steps to ensure digital learning initiatives help prepare workers to meet current and future EHS requirements.
- Understand training needs: Complex safety procedures that involve technical knowledge may require a hybrid, in-classroom/ microlearning approach—where microlearning reinforces classroom training rather than replaces it. Use bulletins to call out particularly important points or to update workers on revised policies or procedures.
- Establish a logical flow for the sessions: The information in each module should follow a path that makes sense. Don’t throw chunks of material at learners without giving thought to the overall theme or topic. This is particularly important when teaching standards and regulations. Lesson plans should follow a linear approach that ties each microlearning module together.
- Think about the technological capabilities: A digital divide may exist within organizations. Some workers may have more access to different types of technologies than others, especially employees who have non-office roles. If some workers lack access to various types of tools, consider providing the platforms they need—whether it’s a laptop, tablet or app.
- Break up the sessions: Employees may be located in different time zones. Also, classes with large groups can be challenging to manage when incorporating interactive elements. Breaking up lessons into several smaller sessions, including by time zone, when necessary, can make the learning experience more effective.
- Get to the point: Keep microlearning lessons to less than four minutes. Keep it concise and focus on key takeaways that the learner should know.
- Recognize the limits of digital learning: Online learning formats provide opportunities to introduce engaging, interactive experiences but limit face-to-face communication. Implement strategies to fill these gaps before, during and after the sessions. To foster an “in-person” feel during live or virtual events, McKinsey & Co. suggests ensuring:
- participants have all the materials they need prior to beginning and have already tested the technology to make sure it works properly,
- tools such as polling, chat and breakout rooms are used during the session to foster further engagement, and,
- after the event, use your training management software system to send any follow-up information, request feedback on the session and quickly address any technical issues that learners may have experienced.
- Have a good security policy: Learners might access a session on their own mobile device or computer. This means the information technology (IT) organization must ensure the user has adequate security controls in place to protect data. Double-check security protocols and consider tiered security policies for different needs. For instance, some people may need more access to learning modules than others.
- Have flexibility and configurability: Digital platforms should be configurable to meet the needs of different types of learners. Again, this is where training management software can provide vital administrative function. Some people may learn at a different pace, so it’s important to have the capability to configure some lessons with more videos or other learning tools for different learning styles. Also, the ability to download learning material is important for workers who may have limited online access or who are working off the company network.
- Leverage analytical tools: Training management software platforms often provide analytics and reporting capabilities that allow organizations to track training progress. Consider using of color-coded performance dashboards that show where safety gaps still exist.
- Ask questions: All microlearning sessions should include a question that helps session leaders determine whether a worker understands the information. The in-session question provides real-time data that tells the instructor whether he or she needs to slow down the training plan, reframe a lesson or add additional lessons. It may also indicate more extensive training is required. A content-related question also allows organizations to measure progress along the learning process.
Digital Learning: The Path Forward
Online learning, specifically microlearning, is increasing in popularity among safety professionals. The National Safety Council, for example, established the SAFER (Safe Actions for Employee Returns) program to help guide employers through the process of returning to normal operations after the pandemic. The program framework includes a focus on communications. Microlearning has been a key focus in many of the SAFER communication task force sessions because it serves as a way to scale up training for large workforces around the world.
Microlearning removes many barriers that exist in classroom environments and can shorten the learning curve for trainees. However, distance learning isn’t a panacea. In workplaces where hands-on training is absolutely essential, such as a nuclear power plant, a full online curriculum may not be practical. Going forward, expect more organizations to incorporate e-learning events into their standard curriculum to increase the level of worker engagement, information recall and compliance. That’s because digital tools, administered by training management software, enable the flexibility organizations need to respond, often in real time, to ever-changing workplace health and safety requirements.
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