With the turn of the century, innovative methods for providing employee safety training have become more accessible to the average employer. Offers for e-learning (i.e. computer-based and online training) have bombarded the electrical construction industry. Topics range from general safety to industry-specific programs, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E standard. The question is not whether these programs are appropriate for the industry, but rather when and how they can be used effectively. In many cases, they cannot replace traditional training. For example, the customary safety toolbox talk, delivered on the job site by a supervisor to instruct employees on how to fit-check a respirator, remains timeless. In fact, training experts now agree that a blended approach, combining traditional and e-learning methods, is best.
Elements of a Lesson Plan
Effective training, regardless of the method, begins with a sound lesson plan. Before determining the methodology best suited for one’s circumstance, a review of the elements of that plan is needed, including the objective, materials to conduct the training, time required, lesson introduction, presentation, closure and the evaluation.
The objective is the foundation of the training. The plan builds around the objective and success is measured by the employee’s ability to accomplish the stated behavior. There are four keys to establishing a good objective:
• Degree of Success
In the safety field, the “Degree of Success” is assumed to be 100 percent. No one would appreciate flying with a pilot who could land a plane safely 70 percent or even 80 percent of the time.
The first key that must be factored into the objective is the audience. They provide the direction the lesson will take. The instructor must know the abilities and background of the audience. The behavior to be achieved, and the conditions to achieve that behavior, would be different depending on the audience’s background and abilities. For example, consider the differences between a first-year apprentice and a journeyman with 10-years experience. The differences would affect their lockout/tagout training.
The behavior to be accomplished is in itself a key factor. What needs to be accomplished on the job? Is a certain knowledge, a particular skill or attitude desired? The objective must be a measure of the employee behavior or ability that is needed on the job. Safety performance often encompasses all three. For example, knowing when rubber-insulating gloves must be tested is based on knowledge of the time requirements. Properly testing the glove is a skill. Feeling that it is important to test the glove as prescribed by the regulations or company policy is an attitude.
The condition is the final key to the objective, and it determines the prerequisite for successful completion of the desired behavior. If the behavior was to test a rubber glove, the condition portion of the objective might be as follows. “Upon completion of a toolbox talk on rubber insulating glove use and a supervisor-guided activity, the employee will ... .” This shows that the employee will receive information and have the ability to practice the intended behavior.
Once the objective is set, the other elements of the lesson plan fall into place. By looking at the audience, behavior and condition, the materials needed can be easily identified and assembled. To train apprentices about the selection of and protection provided by a hardhat, a written toolbox talk or computers and software are needed. If the objective includes the requirement of wearing the hardhat properly, the hardhat itself is needed. To determine the time required, consider the complexity of the behavior and the audience. How much time will be needed to present the necessary information or practice the skill enough to ensure the audience achieves success? In the comparison offered earlier on lockout training, the apprentice training may include more content and reinforcement and therefore require more time to complete.
The delivery aspect of the lesson should provide for an introduction, the presentation of applicable content and closure. The introduction can be a simple statement of the objectives. The intent is to prepare employees for the lesson. Their minds may be elsewhere or they might not grasp the purpose of the training. The introduction lets them know why they are there and what to expect. Keep in mind the objective or objectives when preparing the presentation. Information related to, but not on target with, the objective can confuse or distract the employee from achieving the desired behavior. To ensure the presentation is on-track include questions or activities that relate to the objective. These allow the employee to apply their newfound skill or knowledge as well as provide feedback to the instructor regarding the employees’ status with respect to the lesson. Activities and questions also reinforce content and aid in employee retention of the skill or knowledge. Finally, closure requires employees to reflect on the presented lesson. This can be accomplished by summarizing the presentation or conducting a test.
Although a test is often considered the evaluation, it serves better as a simple learning activity. The true test of success is the employee’s behavior on the job. Supervisor observations of work performance will reveal the effectiveness of training. OSHA regulations reinforce this concept. Many of the standards use job performance as a measure of compliance or a need to provide retraining.
Traditional Versus E-learning
To effectively use either method—e-learning or traditional training—develop a lesson plan as described thus far. Whether lecturing with a toolbox talk or sending an employee to a training Web site, be sure the objectives are clear, the lesson is introduced, the lessons include activities and closure, and on-the-job evaluations are performed.
To decide when e-learning methods cannot be used, go back to the elements of the lesson plan. The objective dictates the lesson. Beginning with the behavior key to an objective, a desired behavior can be classified as knowledge, a skill or an attitude. Knowledge is based on concepts. Concepts can be taught by either method. E-learning may have an edge. A software application can program interaction and activities to suit individualized needs. It can also be connected to projecting devices, controlled by an instructor, and presented in group sessions. When given individually, the employee receives only that content needed and is presented with reinforcement on an individualized basis. Software applications can also ensure a 100 percent degree of success. Test questions can be competency based. The employee cannot complete the lesson unless all questions are answered correctly. The employee receives remedial instruction whenever a wrong answer is given.
Skills, however, are another story. A skill requires an action on the part of the learner. The concepts can be taught through e-learning, but the employee must have an opportunity to practice the behavior to be measured. The practice must occur under the direction of an instructor who can monitor and adapt instruction as needed. Teaching an attitude is similar. Attitudes are placed in a category called the “Affective Domain.” Attitudes must be broken down into measurable criteria. Training is then provided on specific objectives. The results are measured and positive employee behavior is reinforced while negative behavior is discouraged through disciplinary measures.
Using learning outcomes as the only basis, the selection of a training method is a matter of evaluating the objectives developed for the training. If the goals are to provide the employee with new knowledge, traditional or e-learning can be used. Skills require traditional methods with demonstrations and practice or a blended approach. Of course one cannot ignore the impact of time and money. Employers have limited resources. It makes no sense to conduct an extended classroom presentation when the same learning can be safely accomplished on the job in less time. E-learning options offer the opportunity to perform individualized training during downtime for that employee. Training online at home may be another option.
To help in the selection here are a few questions to consider:
• What are my objectives?
• Have I considered my audience?
• Is the desired behavior knowledge, a skill or an attitude?
• What conditions have I set as prerequisites for success (traditional training only, e-learning only, or a combination of e-learning with instructor-supervised practice sessions, simulations or on-the-job training)?
• Will e-learning provide the competency-based (100 percent) degree of success I need?
• How accessible are the training materials (including computers for e-learning)?
• What are my development costs (research, lesson plans, etc.)?
• How much time will it take to conduct traditional training versus e-learning?
• What are my material costs (toolbox talks, classroom time, computers, etc.)?
• How will I ensure consistency in the safety message from one crew to another?
This article and the questions offered here focused on the relationship between e-learning, traditional training and the lesson plan. E-learning programs are built on Learning Management Systems (LMS), which provides employers with extensive tracking mechanisms. These applications and the LMS as a whole should comply with consensus standards established for that industry. In addition, the hardware used for e-learning must meet minimum specifications in order to operate properly. For a more comprehensive list of training selection questions that incorporates technical aspects of e-learning, or for a list of training materials available for the electrical construction industry, contact Joe O’Connor at email@example.com. EC
O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or firstname.lastname@example.org.