With the sudden surge of information technology in our day to day lives over the last couple of decades, advances with regards to learning and employee development within organizations have taken some major strides. Computer based training or e-learning in the various industries particularly in the fields of health, safety and the environmental (HSE) has become a game changer.
In accordance to research conducted by the Association for talent development (ATD), high-performance organizations in particular, ones that consistently lead the competition in revenue growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction, have seen the most dramatic e-learning increase. The percentage of high-performance organizations who employ e-learning in their HSE Training efforts have tripled, from 8 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2017. The report estimates that half of high-performance organizations will make the majority of their learning assets available as e-learning by 2022.
At a time when many organizations worldwide are exploring better options to productivity and efficiency within their operations; whilst at the same time realising the importance of HSE training and education as a key contributor to their overall growth, considering the benefits of e-learning in the HSE fields is an area that every practitioner is likely to face at some point.
A few years ago I was asked to present on the impact of e-learning on changing health and safety behaviours at an international education conference in Spain. Using my previous experience of managing the implementation of HSE e-learning programs in at least two major oil and gas organizations in the past few years, coupled with my involvement in managing health and safety training in various establishments over the last 15 years or so, I had come to very much understand what are the key ingredients in ensuring such programs are successful.
Such initiatives are not straight forward and many organizations have implemented these programs internally with no significant benefit and nearly always at a great cost.
I did not want to write another “benefits of e-Learning article” as the advantages of such programs are well documented and I find that normally many of the articles written in this regard are written by companies trying to sell e-learning programs themselves. With such write ups, the finer and often complex details are sometimes ignored.
Instead, as most HSE practitioners at some point will be faced with the task of working on their own HSE e-learning programs, I decided to focus on the areas which, if managed correctly, will give these programs a much greater chance of success.
Learning from own previous mistakes in implementing and managing these programs I can genuinely say that considering the below seven points during the planning and implementation stages can make all the difference to managing the development of your in-house HSE e-learning programs:
1. A good Learning Management System (LMS) must always come first.
E-learning programs will never be completely successful within your organization unless you have a Learning Management System first. I cannot stress enough how important this point is and it will make all the difference to your overall program implementation.
The system would need to incorporate previous records of HSE training, ones which would have likely been Instructor led. They need to incorporate any third party training records and allow for manual updates of any future records by an administrator.
Care has to be given to ensure that the learning management system (LMS) has the capability to incorporate e-learning programs in addition to instructor led trainings and programs where a combination of e-learning and Instructor led practical’s may be necessary. Such incorporation will require the LMS to have an open source learning platform such as Moodle, allowing both instructor led courses as well as e-learning programs to be incorporated into the same platform.
In addition to the above, the LMS would need to have the capability to assign the necessary courses to the required personnel, allow a system administrator to be able to provide detailed reports on personnels performances and for departments to be able to track their employee training completion based on set plans.
It essential that prior to planning any program, the HSE training needs of every single position within the organization must be completely mapped out.
2. Decide where the HSE expertise is coming from
There are many e-learning and computer based training companies around and an understanding of where the HSE expertise is coming from will have a significant difference on overall cost and the requirement for in-house resources.
Development of e-learning courses has become more specialised over the last few years and a number of service providers have excelled in the various areas of industry and have created their own niche. Developing e-learning courses related to health, safety and the environment has also become one of those specific areas.
When a decision is made to develop a number of e-learning courses within your organizations it is important to decide how this will be managed. Would your company go for just an e-learning training developer and have an in-house person manage all the content and provide the necessary HSE expertise, or would you choose a vendor that is significantly skilled and experienced in developing HSE training modules with minimum management required from the eventual owners side.
This decision of course, depends very much on budgets, the scale of the project, availability of internal personnel to manage the implementation and provide the overall HSE guidance.
As a personal opinion, I believe going for a specialist HSE e-learning module developer works best as they have the HSE know-how, means of training as well as IT systems and module development expertise.
3. Being cloud based is the way to go
This point I learned the hard way on the first HSE e-learning project I managed despite all the advice given to me by the vendor implementing the programs.
On that occasion, adamant that there could have been a security of information breach, I insisted for everything to be hosted internally, we spent thousands of dollars purchasing our own servers and making our own IT configurations to the system. When it came down to it, there were so many issues getting our employees in remote locations to access the HSE training modules, and eventually, contrary to what was initially planned for, had to build an HSE computer room within the same vicinity as the server. As a result, The LMS systems containing the e-learning modules where completely independent of other IT systems within the company and no real time review of the training data was possible by department managers. That decision was frankly a complete disaster!
This was only resolved when we went cloud based to host our company HSE online training. Although a minimal hosting fee was required every year, the benefits were almost immediately visible as our employees and contractors were able to access our HSE trainings from any locations and department administrators were able to gain real time access to their employees training status.
4. Develop the right type of HSE programs on e-learning
Understanding the category of HSE courses that you want to offer is key to having the training add value to the organization. I have often used the three categories of Awareness, Knowledge and Skill to better understand what training works best as an e-learning course. What courses falls into what category would differ from company to company.
I will explain briefly how these categories work:
Awareness Level Courses are courses where a basic awareness of the hazard or the process is required to be able to carry out basic duties; an example of this can be given in courses such as PPE Awareness, Hearing Conservation Training or Heat Stress Awareness.
This is a category which is generally difficult for any employer to monitor as it comes down to the individual employee being aware of these risks and to ensure that they have done their utmost to protect themselves from the potential hazards. Computer Based Courses within this category have generally shown to be the most effective
Knowledge Based Courses are courses where thorough knowledge of the process is required, they courses are normally based on written procedures or standards within the organization. Examples of these courses are Rigging & Lifting Training, Excavation & Trenching, Working at height & Scaffolding Awareness, Confined Space Training and Material Handling.
Computer based training can be effective if followed by a comprehensive knowledge assessment. Depending on the level of work, instructor led practical elements may also be required for a number of the above examples such as confined space training or working at height.
Skill Based Courses are generally not recommended for computer based learning, if the courses are blended with instructor taught sessions, there may be a good degree of success to them. An example of these can be Authorized Gas Tester courses, although the course can be done through e-learning, a one hour practical element is required to ensure all gas testers on the plant are capable of using the gas testing equipment. E-learning can is still used to assess the underpinning knowledge.
It should also be noted, that certain courses may fall into different categories depending on the level of personnel to be trained. For example, a Scaffolder that would be required to build or modify scaffoldings on the plant would require “Working at Height and Scaffolding Training” to a skilled level, in comparison to an operator who may only use scaffolding for inspection purposes and is not involved with building the scaffolding.
Although the plant operator, who has a responsibility for ensuring safe working conditions before allowing for work to be performed, may not be involved in building or modifying the scaffolding, would still need to know the basics of what makes a good scaffold. Furthermore, the operator would need to have the ability to identify potential hazards involved with scaffolding work around the plant.
5. Have a good assessment methodology
Decide how to conduct an assessment of the HSE Training provided. With awareness courses this may not always be necessary, or simple questions placed in between the training slides may be sufficient.
For more knowledge or skill based courses, a follow up assessment or assignment may be required to test employee knowledge after completing the module. There may be an upload option on the LMS to allow for follow up tests or assignments to be uploaded.
Most e-learning software allow for assessment questions at the end of the module to be added. This can be beneficial in my experience only when test conditions can be monitored.
6. Don’t forget System Administration
Most organisations looking at developing internal e-learning training as a way of providing effective means for employee HSE training also do so in an attempt to reduce training overheads and administrative costs.
In reality, while a significant reduction in administrative duties are likely, certain administrative work will still remain, specifically where update of practical elements to e-learning courses are required.
In one of my previous companies the administrative manpower was reduced by 75% and the remaining duties where distributed to focal points within different departments who took on the role as part of their day to day roles. The main administrator role was managed by the HSE training department lead as part of their activities.
7. Keep the bosses regularly informed
One of the key struggles I have always had when developing HSE e-learning modules for some of my previous organizations was keeping management support throughout the implementation phases of the project.
Going from paper-based, instructor-led HSE training programs to online modules will demand a significant capital outlay and will take a significant amount of time. In some cases this could take up to a 2 year period from initial planning, tendering, selection of vendor, review of current HSE standards, developing courses, taking site specific photos to migrating information from previous system. There is also so much technicalities involved which needs to be configured and understood.
To ensure you get the consistent support of organizational leaders during this period, it is important to clearly define the objectives early on and consistently report on how things are progressing during these phases. It is also a good idea to develop a comprehensive report one year after the implementation to explain how the new system has positively impacted the organization.
Whether your organization decides to go the e-learning route when it comes to HSE is an effective training option that is likely to present itself at some point or the other. Regardless of any decisions made, it is important to realise that implementing such an initiative will require a great deal of technical expertise both in the HSE field as well system development. Although such programs are proven to be of great benefits, successfully implementing these programs are far from easy. Organizations must ensure that HSE training requirements, administrative responsibilities, scope of the system and operational budgets are clearly defined prior to initiating such programs.