Busy safety professionals used to have to choose between professional development and living their lives. But with the rise of online learning, those days are a thing of the past. Now, people who want to stay on top of the latest industry trends and compete for the best jobs can take classes and earn continuing education units (CEUs) in between working and reading their children a bedtime story.
“Online learning creates opportunities for people who could not otherwise attend in-person events,” says Chris Ballman, ASSP’s director of professional development. “It also can expose people to new perspectives that they wouldn’t encounter in a local, face-to-face course.”
Accessibility and convenience are two of the main reasons to pursue online learning, he continues. However, it’s important not to confuse the ease of participating with the level of rigor. There are no corners to cut or shortcuts to take when you are learning how to keep people safe on the job. But because learners save time on travel and moving between multiple classrooms, they often find that they can accomplish their goals more quickly from home.
“In some cases, learners can earn more CEUs through a virtual experience as they have the opportunity to review multiple recorded courses as opposed to being limited to one live course at a time,” Ballman says.
Ready to take advantage of the latest educational tools? Here are five tips to help you become a better online learner.
1. Plan ahead.
Once you’ve decided online learning is right for you, spend some time thinking about how the course you want to take will realistically fit into your daily routine. Will anything need to change to accommodate your professional development goals? Do you need to let family members, co-workers or friends know about your plan to set aside significant portions of your time over a few days?
Ballman says this is a step many online learners miss.
“Online learning isn’t something you have on in the background while you complete your other work assignments,” he says. “The timing of virtual courses is often flexible, but they require your full attention and it’s good to block off the time on your calendar in advance if you can.”
2. Fully commit.
You know you have the time and you know you have the ambition to start an online course, but are you committed to finishing it? According to Georgi Popov, Ph.D., CSP, QEP, ARM, SMS, CMC, FAIHA, a professor at the University of Central Missouri and ASSP online instructor, part of completing the online learning process is acknowledging that sometimes life gets in the way.
“Work schedules can be a challenge,” he says. “Learners may have emergencies or unexpected distractions.”
Catching up after a setback can be difficult, Popov continues, but it’s definitely not impossible if you have signed on for the long haul.
“The commitment is the thing,” Ballman says. “It’s easy to return to something you started if you really care about growing in your career.”
3. Stay in touch with your classmates and instructor.
The option to interact with other learners in a discussion forum is a key benefit of online courses. These digital networking tools provide a chance for people to ask each other questions and get real-world feedback on how their safety efforts compare to those at other companies.
“The discussion forums are where some of the best learning happens, in my opinion,” Ballman says. “They offer access to robust conversations and information that you might not find on your own.”
In addition to staying connected with other learners, Popov says people shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to their instructors if they have questions or need guidance.
“If real-time communication isn’t an option, I try to respond to questions within 24 hours,” he says. “In my experience, the learners don’t need too much additional clarification.”
4. Use all the tools at your disposal.
According to Ballman, some safety professionals have a hard time embracing the “gamification” component of online learning. Used to describe the application of game rules and techniques in alternative contexts, some interpret the term “gamification” in a way that makes it seem ill-suited to the high stakes of the safety profession.
“The safety profession is serious — you’re looking at preventing fatalities and injuries,” he says. “But we want learners to understand that gamification is a legitimate and useful way to retain safety concepts, and it can help you improve your workplace.”
On top of interactive games, Popov encourages learners to pay close attention to the supplemental resources instructors provide. These may include interactive downloadable tools, videos, articles or even books. While these can be tempting for busy safety professionals to ignore since they aren’t required for every type of online course, Popov says going above and beyond can help learners succeed.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of online learning.
Put simply, online learning is just as good as face-to-face learning. For some people, it can be even more effective. Those who seek out remote courses should allow themselves to enjoy the recognition and self-satisfaction that come from a job well done.
“There are people who believe that somehow online learning is easier,” Ballman says, “but that’s not true. The material and CEUs are the same; the courses are just easier to access. I think it's actually pretty exciting."
Experience online learning like you’ve never seen it before. Join us and the greatest minds in the safety profession at Safety 2020: Virtual.
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