When the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) went into effect in 1971, workplace training was one of its mandates. Employers were required to provide safety training to their workers in a language and vocabulary they could understand. Within a year, the newly created regulatory agency opened the OSHA Training Institute to provide training materials, grants and classes – and so, an industry was born.

Traditionally, OSHA training involved herding employees into a classroom with a lecturer and using a chalkboard, overhead projector or PowerPoint presentation (as the decades progressed) to provide a visual.

In the early 2000s, the maturation of the internet allowed all kinds of businesses to adopt online training (e-learning) technology for skills development and regulatory compliance – and OSHA training jumped onto the internet in 2001. The industry has only grown as advances in network coverage and mobile devices have made training accessible anywhere, anytime.

Traditional OSHA training still makes up a bulk of class time for the workforce, but it’s important for businesses to understand the benefits and limitations of online training so that they can decide which training vehicle is best for them.

Benefits of Online Safety Training for Learners

The flexible and customizable nature of e-learning can make safety training more accessible to all kinds of learners. Online training offers:

Flexible, Self-paced Scheduling

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 workplace learning report, 58% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace. In a classroom, speedy learners can be bored, while slower learners struggle in silence. Even better, with online training, there’s no need to find a single, “least inconvenient time” for the entire workforce. Workers can take courses around their own production schedules or shifts.

Online training also accommodates varying attention spans and allows learners to take a break whenever they need. They can work on modules over multiple sessions and, better yet, put break time to good use.

Learning Preference Accommodation

There are few people whose favorite way to learn is sitting still for hours while a person reads complex information, but that’s the reality of most classroom training.

Online training coordinates a variety of mediums. Courses combine text, narration, illustration, animation, video demonstrations and interactive simulations. This approach covers the preferences of most learners.

Online training also addresses literacy and language barriers. Audio narration of text is standard in courses, and Spanish or other language versions are often available.

Relevance via Tailored Content

Classroom training almost always requires generalized content. Maximizing the employee-to-trainer ratio is better for costs, but inevitably, workers have to sit through training that isn’t directly applicable to their roles.

With e-learning, course designers can break material into discreet and specific modules. Employers assign the right combination to each employee, and then everything the employee reviews is directly relevant to his or her experience, skill set, responsibilities and job context. Employers can also deploy training “just in time” for the job at hand. LinkedIn found that 49% of employees prefer to learn at their point of need. It’s no wonder – just-in-time learning leads to better retention.

Benefits of Online Training to Businesses

For businesses, quality e-learning offers efficiency and effectiveness in the form of:


Classroom training puts employees at the mercy of an instructor’s teaching skill and style, while online training provides a guarantee that every course covers the same information in the same way for the same results. Every learner will learn the same topics, with no unauthorized opinions.

Online training also allows for a caliber of expertise that you might not be able to find (or afford) in personal instructors. The one-time “delivery” (design) of the coursework can be shaped by experts in both the subject matter and adult learning optimization. That combination can be powerful, and it’s rare to find it in an always-available trainer.

Improved Retention

According to the Research Institute of America, online training has retention rates of 25 to 60% compared to classroom training’s 8 to 10%. Many factors contribute to higher retention, including the ability to self-pace, the multimodal opportunities and tailored content. Flexible scheduling allows learners to take online courses when they are well-rested and lacking distractions, which is more effective than cramming them into a classroom when they’re exhausted after a shift.

Ease and Timeliness of Updating Material

Since online coursework can be updated rapidly and distributed individually, employees can receive swift updates on new regulations or procedures. Employers can update the full training module for future trainees but also create update-only modules for employees who recently finished the training. They don’t have to risk operating a crew under outdated information while they wait for an in-person training.

Trackability and Accountability

When courses are delivered through a robust learning management system (LMS), employers can track training more granularly at both the individual and the organizational levels. With classroom training, employers may only have documentation of completion or non-completion. With a good LMS, they can track individual progress and access the data at the team, department or company level to analyze the effectiveness of the training. For example, did key performance indicators (KPIs) for safety improve after a training program was implemented or changed? Tracking metrics allows for improved training design and better safety decisions.

How to Leverage Online Training Effectively

There are three steps you can take to leverage the benefits of e-learning while mitigating its weaknesses.

1. Choose Quality

Select courses that provide tailored and interactive content. They should be engaging and offer visual, auditory and cognitive learning opportunities. Instead of true/false or multiple-choice questions that encourage regurgitation, courses should include exercises that allow students to apply what they’ve learned to hypothetical real-world scenarios.

2. Offer Structure

The flexibility and technology involved in online training can be challenging for some employees. Depending on the composition of your workforce, some learners may be nervous or intimidated. They might benefit from the option of taking training at set times on company computers. Have someone on hand to troubleshoot technology issues and provide support. Even employees who are eager to complete their training on their own devices may need you to carve out time for them to do so.

3. Finish with Hands-on Practice

For safety training, there’s no substitute for hands-on practice, and supplementing some topics with a “lab hour” is invaluable. Employees should be able to demonstrate competency in front of a well-trained superior, for the safety of everyone involved. The lab should include instrument reading, the use of personal protective equipment and other critical hands-on tasks that workers need to experience to be adequately prepared.

When it’s done right, online training can offer an effective, affordable way to comply with OSHA and other regulations. By choosing quality course content, supporting technically hesitant employees and supplementing with a hands-on component, employers can join the digital age of safety training and improve the experience for everyone involved – while also benefiting their bottom line.