A traditional way of training people to operate heavy vehicles has been a trainer in a classroom delivering the theory using a PowerPoint presentation, then going out with the class to look at the equipment, demonstrating it then supervising and coaching the trainees as they become familiar with it, or a one-on-one session. This is used for machinery like forklift trucks, scissor lifts, telehandlers, excavators, loaders, truck-mounted cranes and more.
This way is tried and tested and, in terms of acquiring practical skills, it works well. But does it work for the theoretical skills required? In a classroom, several challenges can arise for trainees:
- English as a second language can mean that some trainees miss key facts and insights
- Trainer bias can cause unintentionally negative experiences for some trainees.
- Some trainees have a certain amount of trauma or anguish over classroom scenarios due to experiences they had as a child.
- Some trainees find it difficult to concentrate for long enough periods of time – a classroom training session might be 3-4 hours, but the average person might only be able to fully concentrate for 20 minutes.
- Classrooms are expensive to run. They require real estate, a trainer to stand at the front, a projector and computer equipment, power and toilet facilities, meaning that training sessions have to subsidise this.
- PowerPoint presentations are frequently poorly executed and are really just words on slides while the trainer tries a transmission method.
- Some trainees may be embarrassed to put their hand up or speak out in class if their cultural background frowns upon it, or if they are worried about looking stupid in front of their peers or friends.
Some of the above issues can be resolved with online training. For example, if you want to get a forklift licence, you can do the theory online, then have a practical assessment either with a trainer or with a supervisor that has suitable experience. This can reduce the amount of time required using the machine, reduce the chances of making an expensive mistake and therefore reduce the cost of the machine’s operation.
The advantages of online training are:
- English as a second language is much less of a problem. Videos can be watched as many times as required. Text can be translated. The trainee can take as much time as is necessary to become familiar with the material
- There is no trainer bias with online training – it’s delivered the same way every time
- Trainees can do this training wherever they feel comfortable. That might be in the office or at home
- Sessions can be shorter so that the trainee’s concentration levels are optimised
- Online training requires few overheads. Once the course is created, the operation of a server to deliver the training is relatively cheap
- Well-executed online training can involve video, animation, interactive elements, voiceover, questions, images and more. It’s not death by PowerPoint
- Trainees can research things by asking the people they trust, or looking things up online while they do the training.
Online training isn’t a panacea, though. It’s not that flexible because it’s delivered in the same way every time. If the trainee requires more information, there’s not necessarily a trainer on-hand to be able to answer it or provide additional information. It’s difficult to create a sense of teamwork and team bonding in an online training session. It requires decent internet access and a fairly modern web browser to run online training. Finally, it can be some time between doing online training and actually getting out with the equipment, which means the forgetting curve comes into play.
It’s not possible to gain the tactile skills required for heavy machinery simply by doing an online course. A trainee can get the theory required to operate it, but will still need to practice. This is where simulators come in. They are an intermediate step between simply understanding the theory and getting experience in or on the real equipment. They’ve been shown to accelerate a trainee’s skill acquisition.
In conclusion, online training is a way of eliminating some of the downsides of classroom-based training, but it does have its limitations. When paired with practical training and support, it provides an excellent base for developing a trainee’s skills.