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Learning In A Pandemic

3rd September 2020

Online learning is a necessary requirement for businesses as they adapt and adjust to life with COVID-19.   Businesses are facing a number of challenges and are required to reconsider how they operate, learn and adapt behaviours, and find creative solutions to traditional ways of doing things, including the world of safety training.

Cameron Hacault has been an adult instructor since 1998 and founded Haland Learning a training development and delivery company.  He took some time to discuss workplace learning during COVID-19.

What’s Changed?

You have a strong background in training, when it comes to training in the current climate, how have you seen organizations approaches to safety training change since B.C introduced COVID-19 restrictions?   Can you give me an example of a creative solution you’ve seen?

There’s more openness to innovation around training since the COVID-19 pandemic struck than there has been in the last 5 years.  The use of Zoom for instructing, and other online learning has definitely increased.

Some workplaces likely just won’t do training right now.  They may be holding off until it is safer to do training more traditionally instead of online learning.

Organizations have all been pushed to consider alternatives to traditional classroom based learning.  A creative solution I’ve used is outdoors training venues.  I’ve used rooftops, parking lots, and I even used my garage once!  I really like the outdoor classrooms.

What Are The Challenges?

What are some of the biggest challenges you see for current employers in relation to trying to maintain safety training requirements, particularly where it is essential training (confined space, PPE for frontline workers etc.)?  Do you have any recommendations?

Teaching a fall protection course in Victoria I had two extra students that joined my private class. When I asked why they joined us, they answered that I was the only fall pro class being offered on the island.

There have been a number of training providers that were shut down, if training providers aren’t open, there’s no training available for employers which is a significant challenge.

Another consideration is that just because online learning is available, doesn’t mean it’s the right course for your employees, some just aren’t good enough quality for the training that is required.

Finding good quality online learning options is obviously one solution, but employers should be looking to consider lining up multiple training opportunities and consolidating different types of training and other safety services into one larger session, or back to back sessions to make the most of downtime.

I had a client organize fall protection training with me, and then later mention they needed respirator fit testing. I could have done both and helped optimize time and money.

What About Online Learning?

The days of classroom safety training have definitely changed, and online learning is certainly one solution for organizations that still need training to take place.   What do you see as the pro’s and con’s of education, awareness, and training sessions through Zoom and other video conferencing and online solutions?  

A major pro for online learning is the geographical flexibility.  I teach people from all across B.C. and doing it online makes it more cost effective for businesses, and instructors.  There is less travel which is key considering the risks of travel with COVID-19, but also good for family and social reasons.

It has allowed for a greater interaction with the class.  For an instructor smaller sizes are better, but clients usually want as many people as possible in a class.

With COVID-19, not surprisingly no-one is asking about how many people they can fit into a class!  There is an understanding that smaller class sizes are a requirement.

People also seem to be more authentic, and open, which helps create a better learning environment.

When we send people to breakout rooms in online learning platforms, it’s easier to see various screens, and the breakout discussions than it is in a classroom environment.

I can physically see a screen rather than having to walk around a classroom looking over shoulders, and it’s so easy to just jump from one group’s screen to another.

One downside is the potential for Wi-Fi or other technical issues, which can delay, or impact the learning. It can also be challenging for instructors and learners to find a suitable space where work can get done without interruptions from kids, or other home based distractions.

It’s sometimes easy for people to be distracted from home with online learning, but when I’m instructing, I try to engage the class with discussions, and activities. This helps to keep them focused on the content, and applying what we’ve been learning.

Keep them engaged, and don’t let them have time for distractions!

What Are The Basics?

What key aspects of effective learning are more essential now, than perhaps they were previously?

With online learning, it’s keeping the class engaged, for sure.  I  use a number of techniques to engage the class and keep them involved.  Humour also really helps, it’s more important now as it breaks up some of the monotony of staring at a screen and can help connect with the audience.

I find we also need to do more regular breaks, usually hourly to give people time to check emails, rest their eyes or just get up and stretch.

Pandemic Learning: In Short

Cameron feels that online learning will allow more people access to training, however, there needs to be some evaluation to determine if the online training will be the right quality and actually provide value, and the requisite knowledge, and education to encourage competence.  Training is not about ticking a box, it’s about learning.

Speaking with Cameron brings some points to the foreground for me.

  • Training fundamentals haven’t changed, the same training still needs to be completed
  • It’s still critical for businesses to understand what their employees need to learn, and to ensure that the right training is available
  • During the pandemic it may be more challenging to achieve those learning objectives, and the temptation may be to hold off training
  • Avoiding or delaying training can be a financial and safety risk.  With more training required all at once costs can go up, and employees may make mistakes where training may have provided key knowledge and awareness
  • There is a need for innovative trainers and companies to find creative and safe solutions
  • Finding a balance between when in class training is needed, and when online training has more value will be a process for instructors, employers, and employees to evaluate and determine which has the best value for the employees

Perhaps most importantly, not training is not an option, delaying training may be.  Weighing up the risks between COVID-19 transmission vs. risk from missed training is something an organization needs to consider carefully.

Cameron Hacault Biogroaphy

Cameron has been an adult instructor since 1998 and a self-employed consultant since 2006.

He’s also the proud husband of Nicola and father of three young children; Hazel, Roland and Desmond.

Cameron’s Background

  • Certified as a Fall Protection Instructor/Instructor Trainer
  • Certified as an NFPA 1001 Firefighter through the JIBC
  • Completed the “Provincial Instructor Diploma” at VCC
  • Designed many of the courses for the BCCSA
  • Grew up working in family business from 12 years old
  • Owns Blueline Safety Ltd. (Training & Safety Consulting)
  • Served in the Navy, taught Military First Aid
  • Worked as an oil field Firefighter and H2S Supervisor

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