Ongoing learning is integral to safety programs. This is true both for the lead EH&S professional whose job it is to be aware of changes to legislation and best practices for implementing safety training and for the employees who receive the safety training. While compliance refresher training must be completed only every 2–3 years, workers must be adequately equipped (both mentally and physically) to competently perform their jobs every day. Therefore, finding a solution to make training relevant, memorable, and timely is an important task for EH&S professionals, for their own sake and for the sake of the coworkers they support.
The Force of Forgetfulness
The human ability to retain new information has been researched for hundreds of years. A particularly famous experiment by Hermann Ebbinghaus revealed a tendency known as “the forgetting curve,” which is illustrated in the graph below. In short, Ebbinghaus found that time, significance, repetition, and physiological factors (such as lack of sleep and increased stress) will affect the strength of memory and our ability to retain newly introduced information. His experiment suggested that, when learning something new, if no attempt is made to relearn that information, less and less of it can be recalled as time goes on. Additionally, the steepest decline in retention (sans any reinforcement) happens directly after having learned it. Finally, how the person is feeling (e.g., tired/alert or excited/bored), how the new information is presented, and how that individual feels about the information can all make or break their ability to recall it later on.
Microlearning and Spaced Repetition
Microlearning is a process for training that was designed to fight the power of human forgetfulness. In microlearning, lessons or training on specific processes or subjects are tailored to the individual, broken into shorter segments, and intended to be voluntarily performed by the recipient, combatting the more traditional route of laboriously long, annual, required training seminars that present information via one person talking at everyone else.
Spaced repetition is a learning technique that guides learners to review prescribed information at increasing intervals of time. The idea behind this technique is that any extra time that people review information increases their chance of recalling it later. Additionally, spacing out review sessions suppresses the “why do I have to remember this?” thoughts and gives people the power of incorporating necessary information when it is needed. This helps with retention by making the information relevant and memorable. Microlearning coupled with spaced repetition creates a paradigm shift in enhancing memory retention and is being widely adopted as a best practice in organizations.
Advantages of Microlearning:
- Microlearning promotes a spirit of continual learning and improvement, as opposed to refreshing training after long intervals when it may not be “required.”
- Microlearning enables training specific to a need, topic, or problem.
- Microlearning allows for tight schedules, as the person can absorb, process, and apply the information over time.
- Information can be processed more efficiently when it is broken into short spurts and refreshed at frequent intervals.
- When training is presented as “voluntary,” employees are more likely to actively engage.
- Frequent review sessions provide greater opportunities for learners to practice retrieving information from memory, which increases the likelihood of long-term retention.
- There is diversity in the fact that microlearning can be used to reinforce or supplement a more detail-dense training session.
- When employed digitally, microlearning caters to the modern workforce. Employers can use text messages or other short communications to send microlearning segments and employees can complete them without the need for manual reference materials.
Disadvantages of Microlearning:
- Microlearning modules need to be well planned to ensure the integration of smaller learning segments as part of a larger training objective. Having precise details delivered in such a minute format requires that training administrators can explain and provide external references and context for each learning assignment when asked.
- Microlearning can be used to supplement or reinforce compliance training, but fully replacing compliance training would require time and effort to transform the existing compliance curriculum.
- As with implementing any new concept in a workplace, introducing microlearning will take resources (especially time and effort, as it is meant to adapt training to be more targeted and scaled to the individual). This necessitates more effort than emailing everyone a stock video to watch or requiring employees to come into work for a time to watch a presentation and answer some questions.
- Microlearning excels when multiple data points exist for more accurate configuration. It can be a practice applied manually but reaches its full potency when the process is digitized. Traditional learning management systems (LMS) were designed to track larger “macro” training programs. There are new solutions that can easily handle the multiple records generated and maintained with microlearning, but as with any new investment, there is an initial cost and time commitment.
Tips for enhancing an EH&S Training Program using Microlearning.
EH&S managers can work with their training specialists to construct meaningful learning paths with a set objective in mind. The following are a few ideas for incorporating microlearning sessions into EH&S training programs:
- Introduce a specific compliance topic and then provide an example of an incident, a piece of media, or a mnemonic device that reinforces it. For example, when introducing fall protection, use “ABCD” to meaningfully reinforce anchor points, body harnesses, connecting devices, and descent/rescue.
- Most individuals naturally organize information into “chunks” when attempting to learn about new topics. Following this logical device, present training as memory maps, flow charts, and infographics to enhance comprehension and retention.
- Engage employees by incorporating action-based assignments within a microlearning session. For example, when training workers to recognize hazards, safety training administrators can request that individuals submit a picture or describe an unsafe condition they have experienced in the workplace.
- Create targeted learning assignments. If a “lesson learned” must be communicated following an incident, the training administrator can assign a microlearning session that includes a related training module.
The advantages of implementing microlearning within an EH&S training program may add more value to some work environments than others. This, of course, will be dependent on the system that is already in place and the culture of the organization when it comes to implementing any sort of change. However, businesses are turning to this process of training more and more, especially as work itself is becoming increasingly digital.
The SafetyStratus Research Advisory Group (RAG) brings together thought leaders from the global environmental, health, and safety community to promote best practices and provide key insights in the profession and the industries they serve. The Research Advisory Group also advocates, where practical, the intersection of and advances with the use of technology, such as the SafetyStratus enterprise EHS software platform. Group membership consists of representatives from across varied disciplines and market sectors as well as select members of the SafetyStratus team.
The primary objectives of the SafetyStratus RAG partnership are to:
- Build a strategic partnership between EHS practitioners and the SafetyStratus team.
- Provide engaging and practical content to the global EHS community.
- Provide discipline and market feedback specific to SafetyStratus products and services.
While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals a collaborative community environment.
Bersin, J. (2020, January 26). The disruption of Digital Learning: Ten things we have learned. JOSH BERSIN. https://joshbersin.com/2017/03/the-disruption-of-digital-learning-ten-things-we-have-learned/
Murre J.M.J., Dros J. (2015, July 6). Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. PLoS ONE. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4492928/pdf/pone.0120644.pdf
Pan, S. C. (2022). How to Study Less and Remember More- Effective Learning Techniques from Cognitive Psychology Research. UCSanDiego. https://psychology.ucsd.edu/_files/undergrad/studylessremembermorehandout.pdf
Scace, J. (SoundCloud). (2018, November 20). Microlearning: Techniques to Jumpstart Your EHS Training Programs (No. 34) [Audio podcast episode]. In EHS On Tap. BLR. https://soundcloud.com/ehs-on-tap/e39-microlearning-techniques-to-jumpstart-your-ehs-training-programs