As advances in technology continue their march across the plains of the learning environment, the role of e-learning in dangerous goods training is still a source of heated debate. New electronic tools, systems and learning solutions are introduced regularly, but the jury is still out on their use and place in the field of dangerous goods training.
Followers of the e-learning movement argue that it is a solution that provides cost-cutting benefits and the ability to reach more students globally, all while helping companies achieve compliance, which in turn enhances safety. E-learning also is an excellent way to reach more mobile student populations like truck drivers, whose core job function requires them to be on the move constantly.
Supporters of the more traditionalist approach to dangerous goods training argue that there is no replacement for the in-class experience of a “live” instructor or the customized and personal approach which an instructor can bring to a course. Furthermore, the classroom experience is an interactive one that engages the learner and allows them to compare and contrast “real life” experiences with their colleagues, providing relevance to the learning experience.
Personally, I believe that e-learning can be used as a very powerful tool in the overall learning experience, but a blended approach to dangerous goods training falls more within my own educational philosophy. Having developed several and vetted many dangerous goods e-learning programs, it’s sufficient to say that I have rarely seen an e-learning course that delivers it all – interactivity, customization, and orientation towards the student’s specific learning needs. Having said that, however, I have seen many stellar uses of educational technology to enhance the students’ experience and encourage educational exploration and curiosity.
The success of any training program requires that the principles of adult learning are applied throughout every aspect of the program. Educational philosophers have spent a great deal of time studying how adults learn and identifying the characteristics that distinguish adult learners from younger learners. They have proposed that while most children are more dependent, adults see themselves as more independent and self‑directing. While most children expect to need help from someone else to answer the questions they face, adults expect to be able to use their own experiences to answer part of their questions. More importantly, adults want to be part of their learning experience and not simply be told what to do.
This leads to the concept of active learning. Active learning isn’t a new idea; it can be traced back to Socrates and has been promoted through time by prominent educators like John Dewey. Thinking back on our own learning experiences, we can each remember moments where our interests and attention were fully captured by the learning at hand. Perhaps even more interesting is the realization that these were most often moments when we were directly involved in the activity or task, and they have stayed within our memories with a great deal of clarity.
Educational technologists and purists in support of e-learning suggest that it fully promotes adult education principles and, in many cases, goes above and beyond traditional training delivery methods to create a unique and all-encompassing active learning experience which is self-directed by the learner. Traditionalists argue that the individual learner, clicking through a series of slides and images in isolation and without “live” support and feedback, can become lost, bored or distracted, often resulting in a negative learning experience where actual learning retention is compromised. While this may be true, how many of us haven’t experienced the joy of watching one or several students nod off in class during a particularly riveting discussion on the classification of flammable liquids?
With these many factors in mind, it really boils down to understanding the needs of the student, the required knowledge outcomes and finding the most appropriate and effective method of training to meet those needs. Training is a key component in the dangerous goods safety chain; therefore the decisions you make regarding training delivery methods can have a huge impact on enhancing safety. The call is yours! I’d love to hear from you –comments, suggestions, and real life experiences with e-learning applications are all welcome!