A monumental shift is taking place in the construction industry regarding training operators in the safe use of equipment. While OSHA acknowledges that training is an essential part of every employer’s safety and health program, the degree to which that is currently required depends on the complexity of the environment and the actual work equipment being used. 

Blended learning, which combines self-guided online training with hands-on practice and evaluation, is viewed as more effective than just online training, according to the 2010 U.S. Department of Education study “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.” According to the report, “online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.” 

The blended learning approach demonstrates that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to training. It more closely replicates how people actually learn on the job: through experience and interaction with coworkers. It is no longer a novelty in organizations worldwide; it is becoming the standard.

The growth of blended learning training programs in the construction industry has made it easier for employers to satisfy their need for compliance training, with the added benefit that blended training effectively reduces their risk, improves productivity and makes their workforce safer.

Factors that affect training include subject matter, audience demographics, type and age of learners, budget considerations, space constraints, compliance issues, equipment types and language comprehension. 

Blended learning is not just about technology. It is also about incorporating personal, trainee-centric learning, which helps ensure a more effective understanding of safety essentials.

Training that meets regulatory requirements and translates into real benefits, such as reduced incident and injury rates, should be the goal for every employer and its employees. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and the role of a blended learning safety program can’t be understated.

Safety experts agree that the best training combines elements of classroom, online and hands-on work. It must cover general topics, practical instruction, assessment of knowledge and familiarization.

“There is a difference between familiarization and training, and that’s one of the most misunderstood concepts in our industry,” says Scott Owyen, global training manager for Genie Industries. “Classroom or online instruction followed by hands-on demonstration and practice should take five to nine hours. Familiarization simply reviews the operational manual, controls and decals specific to the make and model not previously operated by a qualified operator.”

Online learning solves a capacity problem in being able to train many people at the same time. With improved bandwidth and mobile access, and by using modern online instructional design and employing cutting-edge delivery methods ranging from interactive games to immersive 3-D cinematics, it’s possible to provide an interesting and engaging training experience. These methods have been designed to drive home key learning objectives that can be difficult to explain in the classroom or safely demonstrated on equipment. However, some online tools are inadequate, making it important to blend them with traditional methods to elevate the trainee’s experience.

Here’s how blended learning is making a difference in operator training.
  • High quality game-based training addresses two of the most common causes of accidents: failure to assess hazards in the work area and inadequate pre-use inspection. Up to 60 percent of the accidents that occur can be attributed to these risk areas.
  • Using the latest gaming graphics and interactive technology, operators develop jobsite problem-solving skills in a realistic environment.
  • Multi-sensory experiences allow operators to learn by watching, doing and listening, which suits different learning styles. This type of training also appeals to the millennial generation, which is essential for any employer seeking to attract and retain workers for the future.
  • Online program delivery ensures consistent and standard delivery of topics.
  • Just-in-time delivery of training and convenient, consistent hands-on instruction.
  • With online training, employees can complete the important instructional theory on their own time and at their own pace, which means less productivity downtime for employers and more convenience for employees.
The blended approach is about splitting the learning and applying the right medium to train most effectively. It’s leaving the industry on the cusp of a new category of training: i-learning (immersive learning). Coupled with technology and the age-old human element, it will break down the speed and competency that ensures people truly learn even better. 

Jim Dorris is vice president of health, safety, environment and sustainability at United Rentals and executive sponsor of United Academy. For more information, visit unitedrentals.com or unitedacademy.com.