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  • Rikki Lee

In the Course of a Lifetime

In many ways, today was just an average day:

  • In the morning, Monica, an HR manager for a local manufacturer, had an appointment with her real estate agent to tour new houses, lasting until noon. So she rescheduled all new hire orientation and safety classes for tomorrow, to take place after she completed her already thrice-delayed “Employee Disciplinary Policy” online course.

  • Also today, Pete was eager to start his new job as a packer at the manufacturer’s warehouse. Without the benefit of orientation or the required class “Warehouse Safety,” he began moving boxes to the loading dock. He didn’t notice until too late that one box was particularly heavy, and he threw out his back after lifting it. He took an Uber to the hospital emergency room, where he received a CT scan.

  • Dr. Franklin, a hospital radiologist, was in a hurry to keep up and decided to skip through the content slides of his refresher course “Reducing Radiology Errors,” just barely passing the final exam based on what he already knew. So he misdiagnosed the nerve root compression of the lumbar spine on Pete's CT scan, and the patient was discharged with only ibuprofen.

  • Finally resting at home in the evening (but still in excruciating pain), Pete commiserated on the phone with his sister, Jackie, who earlier today had played Angry Birds on her phone while taking the online course “Preventing a Hostile Workplace.” Just before the end of the day, another employee filed a complaint about Jackie’s alleged hostile behavior toward him, and she was terminated on the spot by Monica, the HR manager.

It goes on and on, day after day. We regularly hear about people who don’t want to learn from required training, who figure out ways to delay or avoid helpful courses, or who want to multitask while trying to learn. As a result, their training becomes futile, and their health, lives and careers are directly affected by a lack of knowledge.

Of course, the poor outcomes we described in the above scenarios rarely happen instantly, but the career and other damage from not learning properly does gradually develop over time. These scenarios also illustrate how the learning of fundamental knowledge (or the delay of it) can have a ripple effect across the lives of others.

Emphasize the need for training

As trainers and instructional designers, we should frequently ask ourselves, “How can we emphasize the need to take this course?” But short of sitting right next to each learner and making sure that they’re properly understanding and retaining the concepts we present, what can we do to instill the value of training in our learners?

Here are some tips:

  1. Before they begin an online course, provide learners with a separate PDF describing a list of the potential impact of unsafe or inappropriate practices and behaviors (and the benefits of safe ones), as well as include this information at the beginning of the course.

  2. Within an online course, offer fictional scenarios and real-life case studies illustrating examples of what went wrong, give learners the opportunity to think about and discuss possible solutions, and describe some of the best approaches to help ensure that such events doesn’t happen in reality.

  3. During classroom training, use videos or guest speakers to describe scenarios that highlight the impact of safe and unsafe practices on the job. Then lead discussions about these situations with the class.

  4. Provide role-playing activities and scenario-based test questions that require learners to make decisions that propose the correct path or resolve a difficult problem.

  5. Keep the online course length to 30 minutes or less, or divide a longer course into modules. This will make it less tempting for learners to multitask and tune out knowledge.

  6. Recommend to managers that they schedule all learners to take the training within a certain period of time, pointing out safety issues within the company that the training is designed to address.

  7. Set an example for your co-workers and managers by taking any required, recommended and elective training as soon as it becomes available.

The next online or classroom course you design may not protect a life, save a career or inspire a scientific breakthrough. But rest assured that your training programs will always play an important role in the course of a learner’s lifetime, even if it's on an average day.

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