How-To: Conduct CBT for a Non-Computer-Based Workforce
By Stephen Evans, Director, Training, Cardon Outreach, LLC
From 1996 to 2012, employees at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TOCDF) in Stockton, UT, worked to destroy the nation’s largest stockpile of chemical weapons. Due to the nature of our work, we had a significant training footprint, which included a series of technical operator training; compliance or regulatory training; and dozens of courses on safety, health, environmental, and security-related topics.
Until 2008, all training at TOCDF was instructor led. By regulation, our 1,300-plus employee workforce attended at least eight hours of refresher classroom instruction annually. Some employees were required to complete more than 80 hours of refresher training each year. To complicate matters, nearly half of the employees worked rotating 24-hour shifts, resulting in only four days per calendar month that an employee on shift could attend classroom training.
The move to computer-based training (CBT) was an easy management decision—employees could complete their required training at any time of day or night, and we could cover a vast audience in a relatively short amount of time. However, many in our workforce struggled with basic computer usage; some employees had never even turned one on! Therefore, we adapted our design approach for these individuals through usability tests, internal marketing, strategic audio, and engaging contextual elements.
We started by creating a few simple interface designs. Each design incorporated standard elements, such as menus, navigation, content, and help areas. We then conducted a fair number of usability tests on our designs, enabling us to create an interface with a common, graphically appealing visual theme that suited our workforce. This interface included easy-to-use, overly obvious navigation and visual cues of when to continue in a course or where to click for more information. Additionally, we placed noticeable directions on every page and a sliding play bar on the interface to show students the time remaining throughout the course.
Once the interface was developed, we produced a few short marketing segments to get the workforce interested in online training. One of these segments served as our “how-to” or “training for computer-based training” piece. We developed a short flash animation of tips and tricks for launching, navigating, and succeeding in CBT courses. This animation, which was constantly available in our “help” area, was engaging and somewhat entertaining to gain learner attention. We also offered live CBT mentoring sessions for interested parties.
The use of audio, especially narration, posed a problem during our initial development efforts, since not all personnel had access to speakers or headphones. Our usability tests revealed that most learners, especially those with minimal computer skills, preferred audio narration to reading, so we worked with management to procure headphones for computer workstations so narration could become a common feature of our online modules. We also used engaging background music on certain pages to make training more interesting.
Ultimately, we strived to make learning engaging and satisfying for our workforce. While our content was compliance driven, our context was entirely up to us. Games, humor, and media-rich contextual elements helped gain learner attention. We also made significant efforts to make training relevant to our individual learners and help them gain confidence in computer-based education through frequent learning checks.
Thus, our workforce became increasingly satisfied with online instruction and gained a few useful computer skills along the way.
Stephen Evansis currently the director of Training for Cardon Outreach, LLC. Prior to this position, he served as Training manager for URS at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Stockton, UT, where he established that organization’s online training program. He was named a 2012 Top 10 Young Trainer by Trainingmagazine.