Training in a COVID-19 World: Meeting students’ needs with online education

By Jim Phillips | Sep 15, 2020
A teacher visible in a computer monitor, with a pile of books, leaves, a pencil, a file folder and a magnifying glass underneath




Social distancing, self-quarantining, travel restrictions. It’s no secret, COVID-19 has upended business as usual. Is 2020 over yet? Before I go further, I truly hope this column finds you and your family safe and well during this difficult time.

While composing this column, I dusted off a phrase from my article in the May 2012 issue of Electrical Contractor. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Those six words are more important than ever as we continue to navigate these uncertain times.

2021 NFPA 70E and refresher training?

About the time this column is published, the 2021 edition of NFPA 70E will be released. Normally, this triggers a wave of companies sending people to training events or having classes at their location for an update on the latest changes. However, 2020 saw a quick end to that approach for NFPA 70E training and most in-person events everywhere.

Training is a very important component of NFPA 70E, which uses the word “training” or “trained” 86 times—not including the informative annexes.

March 13, 2020 [game over]

After almost four decades of conducting training programs and speaking at conferences in person, it all came to an abrupt end on Friday, March 13, 2020. I was scheduled to fly to Orlando the next day for a training program on Monday. Most people confirmed they still planned to attend the event, so I packed and got ready for my morning flight while anxiously monitoring the rapidly deteriorating COVID-19 situation. Then the news broke. The Orlando area theme parks were closing. Game over!

Ahead of its time

Timing is everything. During the latest revision cycle for the 2021 edition of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, there was a proposal that was ahead of its time. Submitted on June 17, 2018—21 months before the world as we know it began shutting down—Public Input (PI) No. 307 proposed a new informational note regarding electrical safety training. The PI language proposed: “Informational Note No. 1: Web-based training could be considered an acceptable form of classroom-based training.”

The substantiation provided for this PI was: “ As more and more educational institutions are incorporating electronic options, online training should be accepted as a form of classroom-based training.”

PI 307 ultimately led to a new informational note for 110.6(A) Electrical Safety Training in the upcoming 2021 edition of NFPA 70E. Talk about timing! The entire text states:

“110.6(A)(4) Type of Training. The training required by 110.6(A) shall be classroom, on-the-job, or a combination of the two. The type and extent of the training provided shall be determined by the risk to the employee.

[New] Informational Note: Classroom training can include interactive electronic or interactive web-based training components.”

Tips for successful web-based training

Necessity was once again the mother of invention. During that surreal March weekend with Planet Earth shutting down, we quickly devised plan B to livestream the classes. However, we had to address two issues. First, how to schedule long training programs online. Second, how to schedule a livestreaming course to fit Eastern and Pacific time zones.

The solution? That weekend, we developed a 2-1-2 approach that many others have since adopted. This includes scheduling one two-hour session followed by a one-hour break and then another two-hour session. Spanning five hours, it fits all time zones in the United States. Of course, our global participants still have to get up in the middle of the night.

The training program must be live and interactive. Students need immediate feedback to their questions and comments, and a real-time, interactive question-and-answer session can keep them engaged. If questions and comments are held until the end, people may have forgotten that particular subject or discussion. This applies to NPFA 70E and other training. Live instruction is still the best approach, rather than a prerecorded webinar.

For people who can’t make it to all of the sessions or for those on the other side of the world, an alternative option may be a self-paced, online program where they can fit the training into their schedule.

Continue learning!

At the time of this writing, the situation is still serious and continues to evolve. No one can predict what things will look like when you read this article in September, but hopefully there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

Until then, stay safe, grab a cup of coffee, open up your laptop and continue learning. And keep in mind, 2021 is on the way!

About The Author

PHILLIPS, P.E., is founder of and provides training globally.  He is Vice-Chair of IEEE 1584 Arc Flash Working Group, International Chair of IEC TC78 Live Working Standards and Technical Committee Member of NFPA 70E.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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