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June 3, 2015

Online Safety Training vs. Classroom Safety Training

Latest posts by Atlantic Research Team (see all)
Online vs. Classroom Training

Is online safety training really as effective as classroom safety training? In this article, we’ll answer this question using the latest available research.

Although the science is not settled on this subject, the vast majority of studies have fallen into these two categories:

Surprisingly, very few studies find that classroom training is more effective. This directly contradicts the belief held by most safety professionals that classroom training is superior.

safety training

Content Quality Trumps Format

Studies indicate that online training is equivalent to classroom training but only if the course content among both formats is the same. If you conduct an engaging safety training class that is customized to your workers specific safety hazards, that will almost certainly be more effective than a generic online training course. These studies can only tell us how effective these formats are when the content is identical. If you were to record an in-person training class and convert it into an online training course, you would likely achieve the same training outcome as with the in-person training session.

Focus on Engagement

study by the American Journal of Public Health showed that engagement is a significant indicator in determining the effectiveness of training. The more active participation that a medium requires, the more that the trainees will learn from it.

safety training

The most effective form of training evaluated in this study was behavior modeling, which is a hands-on training method that starts with the trainer demonstrating a specific task. The trainee then imitates that task while the trainer guides them through the process. While this training method is the most effective, it is also the most costly to administer.

This study also found that ‘programmed instruction’ (e.g lectures) were less effective than the online training equivalent. If you’re going to take the time to conduct a classroom training session, It’s critical that you ask challenging questions often in order to keep the employees engaged. Otherwise, your employees would have been better served with a generic online training module.

Reserve hands-on training for high-risk hazards

Another study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that more engaging training was superior when the hazard exposure severity was high but its effectiveness was equivalent to less engaging forms of training when the hazard severity was low. This means that it might make sense to use less expensive forms of training like online training for lower risk hazards, and hands-on training for higher risk hazards.

safety training

All Online Training is Not Created Equal

There are many different types of online training platforms and their efficacy varies widely based on features and content formats. Some online training platforms are nothing more than glorified powerpoints that display a series of slides with a set of navigational arrows as the user interface. For best results, look for online training courses that incorporate videos as well as ‘learning checks’ throughout the course for maximum employee engagement. All of the safety courses that we offer meet this criteria and were created with an emphasis on interactivity.

Classroom Training Is Often Inadequate

As with Online Training, the quality of classroom training varies considerably. A class conducted by someone with no passion or interest in safety that uses a PowerPoint he/she grabbed from the internet is probably going to be inferior to an online training module. This type of trainer generally puts little or no effort into engaging the students, and passes out a simple ‘True/False’ quiz at the end of the session.

Conversely, a class conducted by a safety professional that took the time to observe the workers and prepare a training session that addresses specific high-risk behaviors is going to be far more effective than a generic online training module.

Some Topics Aren’t Well Suited for Online Training

Although most topics can be successfully taught in an online training environment, some topics just aren’t conducive to this format. For example, anything involving the operation of specialized equipment or machinery would not be a good candidate for online training. A blended learning approach that combines hands-on training with online training is recommended in this case.

Settling the Score

At worst, online training is equivalent to classroom training in terms of effectiveness. It’s also a LOT cheaper. Training Magazine reports that companies save between 50% – 70% when replacing instructor-led training with electronic content delivery. Since both online safety training and classroom safety training are equally effective, it makes sense to use online training when possible.

See how effective online safety training can be — browse our massive library of online safety training courses today. Courses are designed to facilitate maximum engagement and produce the best possible learning outcomes. With thousands of courses available, our course library solves your training needs now and in the future.

[portrait_quote title=”Response from Riskex Editor Dave Collins:” image=”×150.jpg” caption=”Dave Collins, Editor at”]

“Of course nothing is as successful as experiential learning, your data shows that and you acknowledge that. The reality is that cost is an issue. The other thing is that these days, we are time poor. Online training doesn’t tie as many people resources (participants, trainers, support staff, facilities etc) let alone the logistics of taking chunks of people out of the workplace and getting them all together at the same time, people get sick and miss training and have to catch up etc.

Online training can be done at anytime and over any period of time. Humans struggle with too much information dumping over a short period and online allows the training to be broken into chunks and spread out (maybe), allowing practical application of learning between sessions which is essential. Also I assume that people can rewind or go back over things they are unsure about.

Online training can require quite a bit of discipline – I struggle with it as I am easily distracted.

Learning is a social thing and classroom training has that advantage. We can also test learning better if we can see people doing things as opposed to rote learning online and passing a quiz (even if having multiple attempts). Proper learning requires belief and ownership. Reciting answers to questions doesn’t establish belief or ownership. A computer cannot assess belief and ownership. Neither can class room training do a perfect job of this either of course unless there is considerable interaction which is not always done well as you have said.”


[portrait_quote title=”Response from Safety Awakenings Editor Dave Weber:” image=”×150.jpg” caption=”Dave Weber CSP, Editor at Safety Awakenings.”]

“Customization is key.  Meaning, online is just fine and economical for covering the basics, but if you only rely on generalized online training for your safety training – people are going to be killed!  Online training in most cases will need to be either highly customized by the customer to make it specific to their industry/operation/exposures/rules/polices; or, if the online training program can not be highly modified, then the online training should be supplemented by a live instructor.  I guess that I don’t see online training vs instructor lead training as being so much of an “either or”, or “one vs the other”.  I see that in most cases you need both.

The article does not get into discussions of the qualifications of the instructor/teacher AND the type of students participating in the training.  I’m a former college professor.  All  that I and my fellow professors did was lecture, and we were really good and effective at it.  In the case of qualified college teachers and a highly intelligent and motivated audience, lectures are more effective then on-line training (just the opposite of what the article says).

If the audience is the typical factory worker with a low IQ, they need to be engaged (aka “entertained”), and for such an audience, maybe online training with lots of colored photos/graphics/videos is more “entertaining” than is instructor led training which is less “entertaining”.” [clear]

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