Even when fleets add online training to their safety programs, there are still plenty of places where classroom training makes the most sense. Understanding when to choose each type of training, and how to combine them, can make a big difference in the overall success of a safety program. Let's look at how to combine the two forms of training and get the best value out of each.
In most cases, managers choose one or the other purely based on scheduling and availability. If you can get a bunch of people together in one place, you run a classroom session. If not, then you do the training online. That's a perfectly reasonable starting point, and given the nature of the transportation industry that's probably going to be the deciding factor in most cases. However, if you want to get the best value out of each option, it's important to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses and take advantage of those when designing and delivering content.
Let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of each delivery method and see how they can fit together. We'll start with the classroom since that's where people spend most of their time.
Classroom Safety Training Strengths
- Collaboration - In a classroom environment, you have fantastic opportunities for collaborative learning. You can break up the group in different ways, have them work together on exercises, discuss different elements of the content, and add their own experiences into the mix. You can also do more practical and fun things, like having people teach each other, or demonstrate different activities. No other delivery method can match the classroom for this kind of interactive learning experience.
- Specialized content - Classroom content is relatively low-cost to build, so you can tailor programs for much smaller groups than you can with other delivery methods. That means that you can have customized training for one department, and something totally different for another. Lots of flexibility.
- Native language delivery - Speaking of flexibility, the classroom setting is also easier when it comes to delivery in different languages. Even if all the content on the screen is in English, the instructor can speak whatever language(s) they're comfortable with and translate on the fly.
- Fast development time - In general, the classroom has the shortest development time for training content, which means you can get it out quickly, and update it regularly.
Classroom Safety Training Weaknesses
- Disruptive and costly - The biggest headache with the classroom, of course, is the disruption. In order to get everyone together for that awesome group learning, they all have to stop doing their jobs and assemble in the class. A massive pain for the business, which makes it expensive.
- One pace for all - Content delivery always ends up moving at a middle-of-the-road pace that serves the bulk of the audience, but it's guaranteed to be too slow for some people and too fast for others. That diminishes the learning experience for those people, and if the overall pace is too slow it may be tough to get all the content delivered in the available time.
- Slow content absorption - Compared to other delivery methods, the classroom actually takes longer to get the content delivered. All the breaks, side discussions, and other distractions add up — meaning you'll spend more time getting through everything.
Clearly, classroom safety training offers some clear strengths, but also some real challenges. Now let's look at what online offers.
Online Safety Training Strengths
- Flexible and non-disruptive - The biggest benefit of online is that it can be delivered anytime, anywhere, so you don't have the pain of trying to schedule people into a particular location or timeframe. That makes the delivery cost very low when compared to the classroom.
- Individual pacing - Since each person is taking their own path through the content, they can go at their own pace. If they want to burn through it, they can. If they want to spend time in certain areas, they can do that as well.
- Fast content absorption - With none of the distractions of the classroom, and with individual pacing and more convenient scheduling, people tend to absorb the content much more quickly online. In general, a full-day classroom course can be delivered online in a couple of hours.
Online Safety Training Weaknesses
- Collaborative learning - Online is great for self-study, and there are lots of ways to add interactivity and make it engaging and fun. However, there's really no good way to do group exercises like you can do in a classroom setting. People have tried to replicate that through forums and social media-based learning, but it's a pale substitute for what the classroom offers.
- Generalized content - Online is much more costly to develop, which means the content needs to have a wide appeal to be cost-effective. The smaller, more focused courses that are easy to justify in a classroom environment are generally non-starters online.
- Slow development time - Online also takes a much longer time to develop. Since there's no instructor to aid the learning, all that expertise needs to be built into the course, which takes time.
Putting the two together, we can see that with a classroom all the cost is in the delivery, while online has that cost in the development. You can build classroom training quickly and affordably, but getting it delivered is expensive. Online is much most costly to develop, but once it's built there's almost no cost to deliver.
Combining Training Methods
Breaking out the strengths and weaknesses really highlights how the two fit together. The weaknesses of one are the direct strengths of the other, which means you can combine the two training strategies in lots of exciting ways to improve the learning experience.
For instance, you can have people do an online course that covers general concepts and basic fundamentals of a subject, then supplement it with a short classroom course that addresses company-specific content on the same subject. This works great for regulatory things like logbooks or cargo securement.
Or, you can have employees attend a classroom course that serves as a kickoff for a new policy or process, answering any questions and discussing what's happening. After that, employees can do an online course to learn all the details. That works really nicely for large system rollouts (e.g. new satellites) or HR policies.
Additionally, you can combine online with a practical component. For example, you might have people take an online course that covers theoretical content, then follow that up with a demonstration and practical test. We see this most commonly in forklift training since the regulations require people to cover both areas.
Using two different delivery methods to more effectively share content is commonly known as “blended learning” and it's a hot topic in the education world today. Universities started doing it ages ago by having small online components tacked onto traditional lectures, but now it can mean any combination of delivery tools. Mixing and matching different channels helps keep learners engaged, serves different learning styles better, and gives you more ways to measure the effectiveness of the learning at the end.
About the author
Mark Murrell is president of CarriersEdge, a provider of online safety training for the transportation industry.