Online training and electronic learning (eLearning) programs have a lot to recommend them. They’re inexpensive, compared to the cost of hiring a trainer, renting a room, paying for travel, and buying the equipment needed for live, in-person training. They’re always available, meaning that third-shift workers don’t have to lose sleep to complete their training. They’re standardized, so that you know that everyone has covered the same material. And they’re trackable—you can know exactly who has completed which training, when it was completed, and how long it took.
What’s not to like?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) seems to think that these programs lack what might be called a personal touch.
A Little Human Interaction
What is the importance of having a real, live person directly involved with workers’ training? According to OSHA, the human element matters for two reasons:
The opportunity for interaction. Have you ever used an eBook reader? Some of them have a handy feature that lets you hover over or touch an unfamiliar word, and it will automatically bring up the definition of the word. But, handy as it is, that feature can’t provide all of the answers you might need—the programs struggle, for example, with idioms and foreign phrases.
With computer training, workers might have even less context to help them guess meaning than they would in an eBook—and they might need a lot more information than a dictionary could provide. For example, if the training program discusses “restricted areas,” workers who are new to a site might need help picturing where they are in relation to those areas, even if they’re shown on a map. They might have further questions about whether their jobs will take them near those areas. These are questions a computer program might not have answers to.
For this reason, some OSHA standards require employers to ensure that workers have the opportunity to interact with a live trainer either during the training session or before the end of their shift. The bloodborne pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030), for example, specifies that trainees must be given the opportunity for interactive questions and answers with the person conducting the training session. The HAZWOPER rule (29 CFR 1910.120) requires employers to provide workers with the opportunity to ask questions about unfamiliar material—a requirement that can be fulfilled by having a telephone hotline that will link the worker to a live trainer.
Answers provided by a qualified person. Do you know who is providing your online training program—and what their qualifications are? OSHA’s new walking-working surfaces rule specifies that training providers must be “qualified,” that is, they must have a demonstrated ability to solve or resolve problems related to the subject matter, the work, or the project. Although not every rule specifies that a “qualified person” has to answer trainees’ questions, OSHA is likely to cast a jaundiced eye on any program in which the “live trainer interactions” are of questionable value.