In an article a few years back, you learned that the ANSI/ASSP Z490.1 Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training standard was updated in 2016. And in a more recent article, you learned that the ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 Criteria for Accepted Practices in Online Safety, Health, and Environmental Training standard is in the works and nearing completion.
Some readers may have noticed the two standards, one for “EHS training” and one for “online EHS training” (also called elearning), and wondered if perhaps the newer Z490.2 standard for online EHS training was meant to replace the earlier Z490.1 standard. Or maybe simply wondered what kind of training was better—training that occurs online or training that isn’t online. Or even just how to use them to best effect. In this article, we’re going to answer those questions.
First, let’s put to rest any questions about Z490.2 replacing Z490.1. That’s not the intention. The Z490.2 standard for online EHS training is intended to supplement the Z490.1 standard for EHS training. In fact, language in the forward for Z490.2 makes that point well:
“During the 2015 revision process, the Z490 committee recognized the increasing use of electronic learning (elearning) for delivering, evaluating, and managing training. Given the unique considerations of electronic learning, the Z490.2 sub-committee was formed to develop criteria specific to elearning. Thus the Z490.2 standard supports the concepts of Z490.1 and is arranged to complement and enhance the concepts discussed in that standard” (please note all quotes from Z490.2 are currently based on drafts that may change before final publication).
And just as Z490.2 is not intended to replace Z490.1, nobody’s arguing for online EHS training (or elearning) to replace other forms of EHS training. Instead, both Z490.1 and Z490.2 include language about the importance of delivering EHS training in a variety of different formats (sometimes referred to as “delivery methods” or “deliver media”). And learning professionals agree—there’s room for both, and in fact using both brings a diversity of experience to learners completing EHS training that’s been shown to improve instructional effectiveness.
But that still leaves the question—is online EHS training more effective than EHS training that doesn’t occur online? Or is online EHS training less effective than other forms of training? (Of course, the same questions can be asked for all types of training, not just EHS). Fortunately, we have evidence-based training research from learning professionals to help us answer the question.
First, consider this quote from the U.S. Department of Education report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies:
“The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
Next, let’s turn to the well-known learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer and his research white paper Does eLearning Work? What the Scientific Research Shows!:
“In the first section of the report, five meta-analyses were summarized, comparing elearning and learning technologies in general to traditional classroom practice. Overall, these meta-analyses found that elearning tends to outperform classroom instruction…”
These studies by the DOE and Thalheimer seem to suggest that elearning/online training is in fact more effective than traditional forms of training. But not so fast.
For further insight, let’s turn to the famous learning researcher Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark, in a quote from her classic book Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals:
“Evidence from hundreds of media comparison studies shows that learning effectiveness does not depend on the delivery medium, but rather reflects the best use of basic instructional methods.”
Clark is drawing a meaningful and helpful distinction here between the delivery medium (meaning things like instructor-based training in a classroom or elearning) and instructional methods (meaning instructional strategies that can be used in any delivery medium, such as tests, questions, visuals, realistic practice, spaced repetitions, contextually meaningful scenarios, feedback, and similar instructional techniques). It’s Clark’s argument that the use of instructional methods makes any kind of training more or less effective, not the delivery method.
And if we dig deeper into Thalheimer’s report, we find a similar argument and, even better, an explanation for the earlier observations that elearning tended to outperform classroom training:
“Looking more deeply at the results, there is clear evidence to suggest that it is not the elearning modality that improves learning, but, instead, it is the learning methods typically used in elearning—and used more often than in classroom instruction—that creates elearning’s benefits.” (Notice here that Thalheimer uses “modality” in the same way Clark uses “delivery media” and he uses “learning methods” in the same way Clark uses instructional methods.”)
But why does elearning tend to include those helpful learning methods more often than classroom training? Thalheimer’s report explains that as well:
“The bottom line is that elearning in the real world tends to classroom instruction because elearning programs tend to utilize more effective learning methods classroom instruction, which still tends to rely on relatively ineffective lectures as the prime instructional method….when learning designers add technology-enabled capabilities, they tend to add learning methods that are different from—and more effective than—those typically used in the classroom.”
So your takeaway at this point is not get too wrapped up on training delivery methods when creating or evaluating training, but instead to focus on how they use those evidence-based instructional methods that truly make learning effective.
And all that leads to an obvious set of follow-up questions: then how should one use online and “traditional” training? Here, everyone agrees—mix and match training delivery methods to create a “blended learning solution.” This is consistent with what the DOE study found (“The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face.”), what Thalheimer’s study found (“…blended learning (using both online learning and classroom instruction) creates the largest benefits”), and what both the Z490.1 and Z490.2 standards recommend. And so your takeaway at this point is to blend EHS training and don’t be a one-trick pony.
And, of course, to get yourself a copy of Z490.1 now and pick up a copy of Z490.2 when it’s in final form (we’ll alert you of that here at the ANSI Blog).
Contributing Author: Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Development Specialist, Convergence Training | RedVector
Jeff Dalto is a member of the sub-group creating the Z490.2 standard. He is the Senior Learning & Development Specialist for Convergence Training | RedVector, which is a Vector Solutions company. Jeff is an OSHA authorized 10- and 30-hour general industry trainer; is completing a General Industry Safety Specialist certificate program from the University of Washington; presents about safety, safety training, and issues related to learning at state and national conferences; and writes the Convergence Training blog, where you can read his most recent update on the creation of Z490.2 (watch for more in the future).