E-learning Training via the web can aid environmental compliance By Diane Kramer, Ph.D., CEO, MMA/Impletec Group April 2002 The responsible people in your organization have memorized emergency procedures in your SPCC, FRP...

A new alternative
There is another emerging solution: e-learning, or online learning. Companies are suddenly demanding e-learning solutions as they come to realize its effectiveness in terms of saving time and money as compared to stand-up training. It has been reported that the EPA and OSHA are now allowing e-learning training to take the place of at least half of all stand-up training, except the field drills. Following are some considerations on how e-learning may play a role as a training solution.

We're not all the same. There are differences in the capacities for learning among personnel. Carefully crafted e-learning programs present mission-critical training materials and problem-solving scenarios for learners to master at their own pace, allowing as many repetitions as necessary to reach mastery. E-learning programs can simulate spills, disasters, earthquakes, terrorism attacks, and then guide learners through problem-solving choices and role plays until mastery is achieved.

We forget easily. Maybe a few people don't need to review and practice, but most of us need follow-up training and drills. E-learning drills and online problem-solving scenarios can be used as follow-up training, appearing on employee screens at odd times to test for the internalization of 'automatic behavior sequences' and for knowledge. Imagine that suddenly a screen lights up with "Emergency! Emergency! Emergency!, and the trainee sees a picture of a spill … a timer starts to run … the viewer is given a list of choices of what to do and has to arrange the right choices in the right order within a certain time limit, almost like a computer game. The score appears on the screen as compared to past performance. Does the score indicate a need to go back and review? With e-learning, material is available at an employee's fingertips.

People respond poorly under stress. It can make a difference if employees know their own stress patterns and are prepared. E-learning programs can contain modules for teaching personnel about their unique reaction patterns during stress and times of emergency and lead them through practice stress-reduction exercises as well as the development of a personal plan of action during emergencies.

People don't like to look bad. We have heard the objection that e-learning is good for practice, but classroom training sets the context for people to make mistakes and learn from those errors. Some say the best way for people to learn is by trial and error in front of others. Actually, while trial and error is the most powerful learning mode, most people attempt to hide their errors in public, to defend their self-worth. They learn less that way, rather than more. A powerful characteristic of e-learning.is its privacy: people can learn by trial and error without feeling embarrassed or humiliated.

We could be sued. What happens if an organization errs in an emergency and gets sued? Might the legal exposure be lessened by proving mastery of the subject matter by employees. Would that make a difference in court? Again, e-learning programs provide tracking of student learning, audit trails, and electronic signatures, features which are becoming important in compliance and regulatory cases where there are liability issues. Certification and re-certification programs can be easily implemented via e-learning as well. In case of problems resulting from inappropriate responsiveness during an emergency, management can demonstrate that they enforced a highly rigorous and responsible training program, thereby protecting the organization. In one case reported to us, the client was sued for liability and was able to document his preparedness through computerized student management reports. The client did not have to pay the penalty.

Updating is expensive. SPCC and FRP plans need to be updated every three years or when the facility changes according to criteria, which means more training time away from the job, or risk not knowing the new procedures during an emergency. Online training materials can be easily updated. Plans themselves can be integrated into an online training and information systems to ease updating.

Training is expensive. Training is, of course expensive, and time away from primary job functions, especially for travel to facilitate training, can be exhaustive. E-learning provides some advantages over initial training.

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