What Makes Effective Online Training?

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Throughout 2021, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more companies started looking for online alternatives for their corporate training programs. Luckily, the online training industry has arguably never been better, with improved technology and increased understanding of both what trainers want and what trainees need.

Over the years, a wide variety of terms surrounding online training have emerged: e-learning, web learning, computer-based training, asynchronous learning, distance learning and countless others.

But what makes online training effective? How do you make sure important safety topics are introduced in a way that is accessible and memorable?

A Brief History of Online Learning

employees using laptop for training

While online learning has more recently become a preferred avenue for company training, the idea — and practice — of online learning has been around for decades. In the early 20th century, there were numerous computers or computer-like devices used to provide employee assessments. 

The New Jersey Institute of Technology was one of the first schools to provide students with computers, but it wasn’t until 1991, when the University of Phoenix began offering educational programs through the newly founded World Wide Web, that online learning took off.

As technology advanced, many businesses began seeing the benefits of utilizing online courseware to train their employees, and there are now dozens of companies that exist solely to create this in-demand material.

Why You Should Choose Online Training

As any corporate trainer can tell you, even before the COVID-19 pandemic introduced social distancing and increased the prevalence of remote work, gone are the days of packing large groups of employees into a conference room to sit through a day full of long, monotonous training presentations. 

There are numerous benefits inherent with online training that cannot be realized when using traditional training methods:

Accessibility — You may have employees across many different locations, or some may be in an office while others are in the field or working from home. In these situations, it may be difficult, or even impossible, to get all your employees in one location for training. Utilizing online training provides your team with a degree of flexibility regarding training. As long as an employee has internet access, training is available.

“When designed correctly, online training is usually much shorter. It can also be taken anywhere, at any time, eliminating scheduling and facility preparation,” said Michael Robertson, Director of Research and Development at SafetySkills. 

Trainer competency — Many companies choose to have the HR department host training sessions. While this is efficient, it is possible the trainer will lack knowledge on specific topics. If you instead choose to have a seasoned employee lead training, they may have the technical knowledge but may not have training experience. And hiring an outside expert can be costly, both in time and money. With online training, you have the assurance all content is vetted by professionals and you don’t need an on-site trainer.

Consistency of material — When training sessions are conducted across multiple locations, times and dates, or with multiple trainers, there is a chance the material will differ. Even if each session has the same standard material, how it is taught may vary. If you opt for online training, you know every employee will receive the exact same material, no matter where or when the training occurs. 

“With online training, each learner gets the same experience and the same treatment of the material,” Robertson explained. 

Always compliant — One of the most important aspects of any training course is that the material must be current to applicable regulations or laws. With standard in-person training, there will almost certainly be times that the material is out of date. With online training, course content can be updated at any time, typically either via a manual course update from the provider or simply an automatic content refresh.

“Depending on how the online training is developed, it is generally easier and faster to update training and issue those updates to learners. For example, if a company policy changes or a new type of hazard is identified on worksites, it is much more efficient to update an online training module and re-assign it to learners than it would be to schedule and conduct in-person training,” said Robertson.

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Online training also offers a variety of benefits directly to the employees:

Flexible Schedule

construction workers taking safety training courses in the field

Whether you are looking to train a team of five people or a corporation of hundreds, timing is often one of the biggest barriers to classic training sessions. With online training, employees can train in small pockets of time throughout their day, meaning not only can they make training work with their schedule but they are also not relying on the schedules of others to dictate their training time.

Immediate Feedback

Many times, traditional training doesn’t implement any sort of review or knowledge check. Instead, attendance at a training session is seen as “enough.” Online training, when developed properly, can include in-session quizzes for the user to take what they’ve learned and immediately apply it to different situations. This helps the learner not only prove they retained the information, but it also highlights to each individual things they may have missed.

Self-Paced Learning

Think about when you were in school. There were likely students who got their work done quickly but also students who took longer to complete assignments. Traditional training typically does not provide any cushion for employees to learn at a different pace than how the trainer or instructor teaches. On the other hand, online training is ideal because no matter how quickly or slowly a person can or wants to get through material, they are able to do so on their own time.

What Makes A Good Online Training Course

The best, most effective online training courses are a perfect marriage of three key elements: meticulous research, intentional design and engaging graphics. When you think about those elements in the context of online training, it makes sense that having only two of the three would create an incomplete experience.

After all, a visually impressive and user-friendly course with outdated content is essentially useless. Similarly, boring or unrelatable visuals won’t make a memorable impression on the learner no matter how accurate the source material is.

But it isn’t quite as simple as needing just “research, design and graphics.” Several things go into each of those elements to create a strong and successful training course. Keep reading to learn about some essential pieces that will be included in any effective online training.


All training content should be created to be relevant, but perhaps even more than other types of training, safety training requires the utmost accuracy. After all, it doesn’t do much good to be training employees over outdated safety regulations or incorrect procedures. 

“Understanding broad elements of the work culture across industries helps us tailor the training in a way that makes it feel relevant to the largest number of people possible,” said Robertson.

office employee taking HR and OHS training

Meticulous research must be done into general regulations, such as from OSHA or the Department of Transportation, industry-specific regulations and any applicable industry best practices. An outside subject matter expert should also be consulted, especially when it comes to technical aspects to ensure full understanding, which makes it easier to create complete and correct course content.

“My philosophy is that including advanced elements such as story-based learning, gamification or adaptive learning does not do much good if the course’s audience, subject matter and learning objectives are not clearly researched and defined,” said Robertson.


When we use the term “design” here, we are referring to instructional design. In the case of online training, the instructional design often includes learning objectives, competencies or quiz questions, and information on what type of visuals to use when building the course.

The instructional design phase of an online training course is crucial, but often includes elements the learner may not even notice. That is not a bad thing — you want them remembering the content itself, while the design elements simply act as a vehicle for best delivering those important messages.


In order for online training — or any training for that matter — to be truly effective, it must engage the learner, making it more likely they will remember the material. One big factor in being engaging is introducing the content with relatable and recognizable situations.

“High-quality graphical elements can definitely hook learners into paying attention to a course, but those graphics need to consistently illustrate the course’s learning objectives in real-time, or learners will lose interest,” said Robertson. 

For instance, say you work in a warehouse and are required to complete ergonomics training. Taking a generic ergonomics course will do you no good, because you will likely learn things like how to properly sit at a desk. What you really need is industrial ergonomics, which will cover much more job-specific situations.

Unique Experiences Create Effective Training

In 2020, more than 79% of all Americans own a smartphone, a huge increase from 20% only 10 years ago. The pervasiveness of these always-connected mobile devices means learning should be available at all times and accessible from anywhere.

Along with the popularity of smartphones, there has been a corresponding proliferation of social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. In the U.S. alone, Snapchat has more than 80 million users while Instagram has 130 million. Both of these platforms, and many others like them, are popular for the short videos users can upload and share.

Because we have become a mobile-first society and have developed an affinity for short interactions, it is necessary for training to be fully engaging from beginning to end. Users are far more likely to stay actively present in a training video lasting 5-15 minutes than in a full lecture that could last from 30 minutes to well over an hour.

Microlearning, the common name for these short learning modules, suits the reality of today’s learners very well. You can find them as short as three minutes, meaning they get directly to the point without any unnecessary “filler” content that may distract from the key information. This also means training can be completed without taking hours out of an employee’s day.

In recent years, a teaching style called adaptive learning has increased in popularity. While there is not a set definition that everyone agrees upon, perhaps the one most commonly referenced defines adaptive learning as an educational experience that adjusts to a user’s interactions in real-time to provide individual support.

Based on the answer or option the user selects, the content shown next may differ from that of someone else taking the course. This helps create a certain level of personalized learning, increasing engagement and retention.

For instance, in a “Personal Protective Equipment: Types of Gloves” course, the learner is presented with choosing the right glove for certain situations. If they choose incorrectly, the content that appears next will walk the learner through what is wrong with that option. If they choose correctly, the course will continue moving forward.

Instead of the usual quiz style where you are simply shown the correct answer on a missed question, adaptive learning courses explain the correct answer. In the context of occupational health and safety, it is often just as important to understand the “why” as it is to understand the “what.”

Safety Training Must Be Easy To Understand

worker using phone for online training

When it comes to safety topics in particular, many concepts can be convoluted, especially when covering topics that align with specific laws. In addition to OSHA standards, which generally serve as the safety baseline for any employer, other agencies have their own requirements, such as the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and even industry-specific governing bodies.

Online training courses must take content that is oftentimes extremely dense — for instance, the OSHA standard regarding powered industrial trucks — and present the information in a way that is not only understandable but also easily digestible. After all, if an employee doesn’t remember what they have learned, the training is essentially useless.

Other times, however, a particular safety topic does not have a specific regulation. For example, almost any outdoor worker will need to familiarize themselves with the dangers of heat stress and/or cold stress, but there is no OSHA standard for either of these topics. It is then the job of the training course creators to understand and create content addressing both applicable hazards and controls.

Are There Limitations to Online Training?

Taking training online is convenient and can save your company time and money, as online training does not require a physical classroom setting or bringing an in-person trainer to your jobsite. Employees can complete virtual training from anywhere with internet access.

However, remember that some in-person training may also be required for certain roles or specific safety regulations. For instance, anyone can take an online forklift safety training course, but until an employee has gotten in a forklift and demonstrated how to safely operate the machinery, they could be considered a liability

forklift driver following safety training protocols

“Many OSHA regulations contain requirements for site-specific training components. Our Forklift Operator Training course is a good example. We provide all the information that the regulation requires, and carefully explain safe operating procedures such as backing, lifting, driving around pedestrians, etc. But OSHA requires the employer to verify that an individual is capable of safely operating a forklift in his or her work environment,” Robertson explained.

Additionally, online training can serve as an ideal starting point for employees to learn general safety topics, but you may need to conduct some in-person training for site-specific hazards that cannot possibly be assumed in an online course.

No matter your industry or work environment, online training can either be used as an entire training program or can create a consistent baseline so any in-person trainer is not starting from square one.

Make The Switch To Online Training Today

Conducting employee training is one of the most important things any organization can do. New employees need to be trained on processes and procedures that may be unfamiliar to them, while all employees must stay up to date on regulations.

Online training can help your workforce get caught up on regulatory training requirements or maybe even learn new skills without requiring large numbers of employees to congregate in one area. 

It’s never a wrong time to evaluate your current safety program to protect your employees, but now is the perfect time to do so. For more than 20 years, SafetySkills has made occupational health and safety training easy, no matter your industry, job title or location. Contact SafetySkills today to see how we can help get you started on an exceptional online safety training journey.

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