Education and schools have to cover a number of risk areas which staff need to be aware of including safeguarding, health and safety and data protection to name but three areas. The wider world, beyond education, has similar issues which might also include COSSH, lifting and handling and personal protective equipment (PPE). So how do we address these issues and how do we “train” staff?
Recently I have had the opportunity to see a number of online training platforms, in different contexts, which are being used to address some of the above. The idea is that these online platforms allow staff to receive training on the areas which relate to them, while maintaining a central record of what training has been done and also sending out notifications and reminders when training has to be renewed. All sounding good so far?
The issue I have with this is that the focus has almost totally shifted to that of compliance rather than developing learning in relation to the risk area which is being covered. The platform shows who has done which training courses plus ensures that people do the courses, but does this actually improve the learning related to the particular risk area?
One look at some of the online training content shows multiple ways in which content can either be quickly skipped through or missed out altogether. I must admit my own urge, when presented with some of these online courses, is to simply get it finished as quickly as possible to allow me to get on with matters I deem to be more pressing. In addition, the content is not particularly engaging taking the form of video lectures or large amounts of text, with only minimal interaction. Even the attempts at testing user knowledge at the end of units or modules is superficial in nature plus very much dependent on short term memory of facts as opposed to testing more longer term, or deeper learning of the subject matter. A user may therefore seem to be proficient in a given area such as cyber security, having completed the relevant online course however may have learned very little if anything from it.
Here we see an example of the focus shifting from developing an understanding of health and safety, for example, to ensuring all have done the health and safety online course. We stop worrying about understanding of health and safety as we can demonstrate that all staff are deemed proficient having completed to relevant online course. We have achieved compliance but not competence. We are considering what we can measure, the completion of online training, as what matters as opposed to trying to measure what matters.
I think we need to take a step away from the compliance culture. Yes, it is easier to measure an organisations health and safety awareness by the number of people who have completed the annual training, but does this mean the understanding and practice is there? I believe it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t why should be spend the time, money and effort on these courses. Surely, we need to find a better way?
The key for me lies in two areas, the first being how we educate and then on how we measure that learning has taken place. In the area of education I think it is about making use of multiple delivery methods from short online content to in person training, posters and email awareness programmes. We also need to continually adapt and revise our approaches which brings me neatly onto measuring. We need to find methods of measuring whether this is short tests at intervals throughout the year, playing out scenarios, audits or focus group discussions. This can help inform us as to what has been learned and what has not, and in doing so can help us revise and redesign. In revising and redesigning we can then seek to build better understanding in our staff. Yes, this is all much more difficult than simply firing out an online course for staff to do however it builds deeper learning.
Deeper learning is likely to serve a staff member and the organisation much better than a tick against an online training course in the event of a cyber, health and safety, COSSH or other issue.