Study finds supporting learner confidence to apply new skills key to effective training

IWH trial of office ergonomics training also finds little difference between in-person and online training

Published: February 28, 2014

Health and safety training for office workers is more effective when it includes follow-up sessions to help learners apply their new skills and guide supervisors on how to support them in doing so.

That's according to a recent study from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) comparing the effectiveness of different modes of delivering ergonomics training.

Our study shows that both in-person and online training improve worker practices and postures to about the same degree, says IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Ben Amick, who led the study. However, both methods are more effective when followed up by enhanced training to increase the confidence of workers and supervisors in their ability to successfully identify problems and implement solutions. Amick presented his findings at an IWH plenary in January 2014.

Despite the continued reliance on training as a tool for improving practices, there still isn’t much research done on the effectiveness of different modes of training, adds Amick. Practitioners continue to be divided over the pros and cons of e-learning and classroom learning. This study set out to compare the two, and to assess their effectiveness when followed up by additional in-person training designed to engage learners.

Too often, people drop into an organization, do training and then leave, says Amick. We don’t think that’s the right way to do training if your goal is to change practices. If you want to change practices, you need to focus on how to engage workers and managers, and support them to identify hazards and find solutions.

Follow-up component focuses on self-efficacy

To conduct the study, Amick's team recruited more than 400 office workers at five different multi-site education, municipal and utility organizations in the Greater Toronto Area. Workers participated in one of five training alternatives: in-person training only, online training only, in-person plus enhanced training, online plus enhanced training, or none of these (the control group, which was given instead a link to an ergonomics information page on the Ontario Ministry of Labour's website).

The classroom and online training covered the same evidence-based, standard-compliant content, and both took about 90 minutes to complete—though online learners had the flexibility to go through the nine 10-minute modules any time they wanted during a two-week window. The enhanced component consisted of three 30-minute follow-up sessions, given to workers three months after the initial training.

In the enhanced sessions, learners first worked in pairs to do ergonomics assessments on one another, then supported each other to do assessments on colleagues who didn't take part in learning. The focus of this component was building self-efficacy.

We found self-efficacy is the key to training effectiveness, says Amick. It's about more than skills and knowledge. It's about building the learners' confidence to apply the knowledge, identify hazards and problem-solve. And it's about supporting a dialogue among workers about healthy computing.

Also part of the enhanced training was a 60-minute session given to supervisors and managers. The goals were to coach them in supporting a healthy computing culture, to help them understand the importance of role-modelling, and to build their own self-efficacy.

Training makes a difference

The study measured several outcomes three, six and nine months after the training. These included ergonomics knowledge, postural risk (as assessed by ergonomist observation), appropriate workstation adjustments and pain symptoms. It found that, in most measures, the groups that received training scored better than the control group, which received none.

And across most measures, the groups receiving the enhanced training continued to make improvements—even after the others, who didn’t receive enhanced training, had reached a plateau.

When self-efficacy starts working, people continue to improve, says Amick. That's reinforced by the practices they're adopting, and we think it's reinforced by the supervisors and co-workers.

The online office ergonomics training program tested by Amick’s team will now be submitted for certification to the Canadian Standards Association, and will also be made available through Ontario’s health and safety associations. You can watch Amick's full presentation on the study at: