OHS Canada Magazine

Welcome to the virtual classroom

Employers double down on e-learning through COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move towards e-learning opportunities. (Fizkes/Getty Images)

These are trying times for Canadian organizations, but safety is hardly taking a back seat.

In fact, the current pandemic has made worker health and safety mainstream news. Organizations are adjusting their operations and enhancing their procedures to address COVID-19 guidelines, including embracing digital alternatives to workplace health and safety training.

The trend towards e-learning and “virtual classrooms” is not new, with organizations of every stripe dipping their toes into digital transformation in recent years.

COVID-19 has simply pushed companies to double down on these efforts, giving rise to an influx of innovative tools and programs that enable employees to work and learn remotely.

Students at the heart

Like any digital transformation, the move towards e-learning is a journey.

Industry training organizations like Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) must keep pace with technology while ensuring virtual solutions carry the same depth, value and impact as traditional in-class offerings.

At the core of this journey is the student experience.

In addition to basic learning principles, online courses must cater to a student’s desired outcomes, adjust to their learning styles and their comfort with technology.

This is often easier said than done, as learning styles vary greatly between people and industries, as do access and comfort with technology. It’s easier to adjust for these variances in a physical classroom setting, but how do you accommodate this in virtual or remote environments? How do trainers replicate the value of an in-class program and keep students coming back?

Lessons learned

We’ve learned several lessons while adapting our training programs for virtual delivery.

Audience interaction: Meaningful interaction and engagement through a screen can be hard, especially over long periods of time. Here’s where incorporating real-time polls or interactive activities can keep students attentive, alert and focused on their screens.

Multiple presenters: Many of WSPS’s virtual courses are led by multiple presenters. This provides our trainers relief and support during multi-day classes and provides learners with fresh perspectives and approaches throughout the course.

Breaking the ice: To build a sense of “team” in a virtual setting can prove difficult. Engage participants with icebreakers that promote a sense of connectivity; schedule time to let students introduce themselves and interact.

Tech support: Not everyone is comfortable with technology. Some may even shy away from taking part as a result. That’s why trainers must recognize these skill gaps and provide additional support, allowing the participant to focus their attention and energy on the content.

Seek feedback: Virtual learning is evolving and organizations must ensure their entry into this space is effective. Feedback from students and employers is critical to refining solutions. Consider conducting post-class surveys or engaging students directly.

The power of choice

Although online learning may dominate the future of workforce training, not everyone will be open to making the transition.

To that end, it’s important to have training options: something for those who wish to attend in-person (in a perfect non-COVID world), a blend of both online and physical classes where “hands-on” learning is most conducive, and/or a self-paced learning approach.

Employers will best succeed if they take into consideration the learning preferences, technology requirements and access limitations when planning staff development and training.

Lina Della Mora is vice-president, market and product innovation (interim) at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) in Mississauga, Ont.

This Training & Development column was originally published in the July/August issue of OHS Canada.

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