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E-learning divides opinion among training bodies

27 March 2017

THE RISING popularity of e-learning as a form of health and safety training divided opinions during a lively debate in the Safety Dialogue Theatre at the Health and Safety Event in Birmingham.

During the training and competence session, the advantages and drawbacks of online training packages were hotly debated. 3M’s George Elliott said: “We are seeing an increase in e-learning but there are divided opinions.”

Matthew Powell-Howard, of NEBOSH, urged employers to look carefully at the quality of materials provided to students and how regularly they are accessed. He said: “You need to do your homework on the quality of e-learning packages. For example, I would want evidence of the attrition rates of candidates because we have seen massive differences in their performance.”

A member of the audience from the West Midlands Fire Service suggested that e-learning had been helpful in some circumstances due to the logistical difficulties of organising group sessions.

Turner and Townsend’s  Jonathan Hughes agreed that e-learning provided an important platform but, if used in isolation, would not necessarily drive long-term competence. “If your objective is to put a tick in a box, it’s fine, but in terms of competence, how do you assess that? E-learning is valuable but it has to be part of a blended approach,” he said.

The question of how to assess and qualify competence following training was a key feature of the debate. Panellists agreed on the vital importance of establishing a mechanism for assessing the long-term outcomes in the workplace.

The danger of employers treating training as a box-ticking exercise rather a route to competence drew some passionate responses. Jonathan Nobbs, of IOSH, said: “I struggle to understand the idea of box-ticking. For employers, training is an investment. And for the UK, there’s big skills agenda we are trying to impact here. It’s about making our workforce more competitive and more productive.”

Looking to the future, however, he emphasised the potential of technology to transform current training practices. He said: “There is a radical change around learning and development. It’s an exciting time, when you consider the possibilities around virtual reality and co-creation of learning and knowledge using collaborative media. We all have to think carefully about where we are taking our training programmes, given the ambition and expectation of learners.”