Hidden dangers….

Question of the week:  What are my experiences and perceptions related to blended learning and or technology integration in my professional context?


When I began my career in occupational health and safety, safety training was strictly a synchronous, in-person event in a classroom setting.  Technology was limited to power point presentations and a few videos.  While this afforded many opportunities for the necessary hands-on activities, much of the time was spent passively listening to lectures about theory and safety regulations.  This presented numerous challenges, primarily the amount of time required for such an in-person event. Attendance and resulting safety compliance was often poor, as it was nearly impossible for a full-time student or professor to find eight consecutive hours for training purposes. Such an approach often did not meet the diverse needs of students; many spoke English as an additional language. Classes consisted of first-year students with no prior knowledge of the subject matter, along with professors who may have completed the training numerous times in the past.  There was no recognition of prior knowledge, and no possibility for students to learn at their own pace.

Bored students…

Current Status

The modality of safety courses at the University of Regina has evolved much like the history described in The Landscape of Merging Modalities .  Today, a few of the optional safety courses on campus are fully online and asynchronous; these are highly accessible, convenient, and allow learning at one’s own pace. Such a format is common for continuous professional development courses, as mentioned in Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 10). These courses are typically outsourced however, and there are costs incurred by the university and sometimes the students themselves. These online courses may be appropriate when the learning objectives do not include hands-on skills development.  However, most mandatory safety courses are now offered in a blended, hybrid format. Students asynchronously complete course pre-requisites on a Learning Management System (UR Courses), and then attend two-hour in-person sessions where essential hands-on skills are mastered. Online course content includes videos, interactive “test your knowledge” exercises, links to external sites for further reading, and online exams to confirm course completion and comprehension.  Course animations are also particularly beneficial for safety training applications, as they can safely demonstrate what not to do, and what can go wrong if safety requirements are not met.

Adding this technology and teaching in this format has streamlined safety training considerably, making the best use of both the instructor’s time and that of the students. As opposed to the traditional classroom models Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 4), participants are able to complete the course prerequisites at their own pace, and access additional readings if unfamiliar with the subject matter or terminology.  According to course feedback, the online prerequisites are less stressful and more engaging than attending a full day lecture, and more accessible to those with scheduling and language challenges.  A challenge with this integration can be familiarity and comfort with technology, along with access to technology. This could be a significant issue in some workplaces, but in the university setting is rare.

Hidden Dangers…

As educators in EC&I 834, our class discussion yielded many different opinions of what online and blended learning actually means. Valerie Irvine, in The Landscape of Merging Modalities, notes “On today’s higher education campus, there are likely a dozen new terms being used to describe different configurations around the modality of courses”.  We have to remember that our audience will have different perceptions and expectations also.

A “hidden danger” – literally – to changing course modality (at least for safety training purposes) is the potential for changes in learning outcomes and unmet expectations of students.  This has been particularly evident when synchronous, in-person safety courses moved to the other end of the continuum, as described in Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 10), and became fully online.  The pandemic spurred many of these changes in safety education, as in-person training was no longer considered safe, but some form of safety training was still necessary.  A flood of online courses became available over a short period of time. As mentioned in this book, many instructors and institutions have simply transferred existing classroom content online, “often with poor or even disastrous results”.

One example is H2S Alive, which the university outsources to external training providers.  H2S Alive is considered the training standard for the petroleum industry, some industrial environments, and some applications in environmental engineering.  This is an eight hour synchronous, in-person class which is renewed at least every three years (or annually for some employers).  While the course covers a great deal of theory, there are many practical skills that must be learned and practiced repeatedly.  These include the use of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), use of electronic gas monitors, rescue techniques, and first aid.  Failure to meet these learning objectives could be fatal.

With in-person H2S Alive courses suddenly inaccessible or unwise during a pandemic, asynchronous “H2S Safety” courses became an option for online training. These online courses typically include the same core theory of H2S Alive, but are for usually for awareness purposes only.  In course development, Teaching in the Digital Age (Chapter 10) noted the importance of identifying the main skills to be taught, and analysing the most appropriate delivery mode for each learning objective; this seems to be lacking in the H2S Safety courses. They do not meet the critical learning objectives related to SCBA, monitoring, or emergency response, yet this is often not made clear in course descriptions.  The online course alone is not sufficient training for those in Canada who could encounter lethal concentrations of this toxic gas.

The danger is that many employers or supervisors and students assume the two classes are interchangeable.  The online courses place the onus on the employer or supervisor to essentially create a blended format on their own, by providing the hands-on learning themselves when they are often not qualified to do so.  If these learning objectives are not made clear, consequences could be lethal for the trainee and potentially criminal for the employer.  As mentioned in The Landscape of Merging Modalities, “higher education institutions offering courses today must do more to communicate course offerings and their modality to potential learners up front and may be required to do so more than once, to ensure comprehension”.  Simply “delivering the same design online does not automatically result in meeting changing needs” (Teaching in a Digital Age, Chapter 4). Providers of these courses must be clear about what the training is, and what it is not.

About Lauren Bradshaw

Hello! I'm a Chemist and Health & Safety Advisor with the Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science, at the University of Regina. I've already completed a MSc in Occupational Health & Environmental Management, but have recently changed gears to pursue a Master's Certificate in Educational Technology and Media.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hidden dangers….

  1. Matthew says:

    Thanks Lauren for your post. I find in my classes I often get tunnel vision by focussing exclusively on my own perspective (as a high school instructor). It is refreshing to hear from someone outside my context applying the principles we have learned in class. Your post reminds me of a chemistry course I took through an online university (let’s say that they were ubiquitous in Canadian distance education without naming the institution). When I returned to face-to-face instruction my hands on skills were atrocious. After a being verbally berated by a lab instructor for not understanding proper procedures it was revealed that my distance class was how I met prerequisites for the course. Luckily he then took several lunch hours (of his own time mind you) to get me up to speed. He certainly underscores your point that modality must fit the skills and needs of the task/learner.

  2. Lauren Bradshaw says:

    Thanks Matt for the comments! Now that you mention it, I think I get tunnel vision as well. Don’t feel bad about your lab skills – they are often atrocious, even for students who took chemistry in person. 🙂 That’s great you had an instructor willing to invest some time. I’ve had similar experiences with my MSc. For instance, I know a lot about respiratory hazards, types of respiratory protection, principles of respirator fit testing – but am not qualified to actually DO a fit test. Some courses really should be blended to achieve sensible learning objectives.

  3. Jasvinder Kaur says:

    Hello Lauren, your professional journey has truly inspired and motivated me. I have done Masters in Zoology and really concerned with the health and environmental issues. I am really interested to read your more blogs. Thankyou!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *