Achieving Competence through Digital Learning

I’ve just completed the Open University’s on-line course “Online Teaching: Creating Courses for Adult Learners”.  No this isn’t a Brag Post, I don’t know if I’ve passed the assignment yet, but whether or not I do, I wanted to share some of the reflections I’ve had whilst studying the materials.  Anyone familiar with the Open University  know their expertise  in delivering a quality distance learning experience, and that they’ve effectively used digital technologies in delivering learning long before COVID struck. I can truly say I learnt a lot from this course, and I hope I will be able to translate that knowledge in developing Human Factors Expertise Ltd’s on-line courses.

One of the things that really struck home to me was just how bad most of the on-line training I’ve received in the workplace is.  It may be cost-effective to roll out a recorded presentation, but I’m not sure how effective that is in changing behaviour, recruiting commitment, or achieving learning.  We’ve all seen them, slick presentations put together by media consultants (I assume), which are “interactive” in the sense that you have to hover the mouse over areas of the screen to get all the  information, and which are followed up by a patronisingly simplistic multiple choice quiz to “demonstrate” that you’ve learnt something.  Hands-up if you’ve ever clicked through the presentation and taken the quiz straight away without actually reading the material! 

Sometimes such corporate delivery is probably appropriate.  It’s one way of making sure that everyone gets the same information – if that is all you are trying to achieve.  For example, I’ve seen many videos showing people strolling around in overalls and hardhat, whilst a professional actor gives a voiceover.  The number of “inductions” to site I’ve had where the audience has continued to chat and text while being played this video!  Again followed up with a test of your short term memory – the number to ring in an emergency, the PPE required on site.  I see the reason for this, though there are sites that are moving away from this model to something much more testing – taking people to a staged area of site and getting them to point out potential hazards for example.  Not every site can afford this or needs this, but it gladdens my heart that it’s happening.

What really worries me is the training that people receive to tick a compliance box: 

  • Manual handling training via video when you need hands on training to learn any skill. 
  • Recording that someone has read a procedure (with or without a MCQ test) which assumes that they have understood it (just sign here) and will be able to follow it.
  • Cybersecurity, data protection, work at height, accident investigation … all via a computer screen with no discussion, no opportunity for debate, no opportunity for real learning.

Such training may allow the organisation to say, “we’ve trained our people”, but it doesn’t provide any evidence that those people are sufficiently competent to be healthy and safe, to do a good job when it matters.  This surely misses the entire point!

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not against on-line learning, far from it.  Removing the necessity to travel to a particular location, and dedicate a set period of time, to receive learning, opens the doors to many people who were previously disadvantaged.  As a company, it means that we can offer our training to many, many more people than if we delivered it all face to face.  What concerns me is the removal of the human (the humanity?) from the process.  In my life time, I’ve seen a gradual erosion of workplace training.  The number of dedicated, professional trainers on sites has reduced to zero in many cases.  Anybody can be told to train a colleague, training may be outsourced entirely to a digital company – how many training designers and deliverers have the anatomy of a 21st century educator? 

I think that we can do better than this, particularly where we rely on people to control major accident hazards.  Am I wrong?