Virtual Training can be just as Compelling as In Person, Here’s How

By Jayne Roth

Shall I say it? Covid19 ad nauseum 2020… The world as we know it has changed. What now? We persevere! That’s what we do in 2020 as food safety professionals. We find new ways to accomplish what we need to in order to keep consumers safe and for brand protection. What does the terrain look like now for training and education? Several food safety instructors provide their input on how they are continuing to offer essential and effective food safety training during 2020’s restriction due to Covid-19.

As social distancing has become the norm, instructors have moved to instructor-led virtual training (ILVT). I was able to talk with several instructors that have provided some profound insight as to how they have kept effective training alive – They discussed what has worked and what are some limitations that can help guide your to developing your ILVT.

It is important to set the stage for your students during ILVT (and even in-person courses). Lee Cockerell, Exec VP, Disney, Disney Chief Learning Officer at Cockerell Academy, said it best “you have to go through the heart to get to the brain.” During our conversation, he stressed the instructors must make training and education personal for your students. Let them know that if critical food safety processes aren’t followed, people will suffer. This will get students’ attention and empower them. Tell them the “why” of what they need to do. Scott Zimmerman, CEO of Seafoodcertification.com said training that only “focuses on theory will fall by the wayside.” The training needs to be done methodically. Instructor’s know the material and the delivery is the key to success.

Let them know that if critical food safety processes aren’t followed, people will suffer.

If your students know the expectations of the course and its layout, they will likely be more engaged. There are many technical matters that should be handled prior to the course such as connectivity issues, knowledge of learning platform (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, and the Safe-Food Training Hub among others) and comfortability of technology. A quick search on the Internet will give you several do’s and don’ts of ILVT.

Many of the instructors that I spoke with indicate several similar concerns with ILVT. These include:

• Difficulty in reading facial expressions to determine if the student is understanding a concept
• Students are unable to work in pairs and miss out on face-to-face interactions which is important in what food safety specialists can learn from one another. Food safety specialists need to be able to interact with foodservice or food processing workers effectively so they can explain why a certain process needs to be followed correctly – this will increase success significantly. Classroom training also lends an environment that allows the student to learn the techniques needed to change behaviors of others that ILVT may not necessarily provide.

So…what can we do about these concerns? How can we improve the effectiveness of ILVT? Rob Mancini, Environmental Health Officer, Health Canada, highly recommended that “effective online training must be interactive.” Here are a few tips to follow:

• Choose a learning platform that is easy to download and use
• Lee Cockerell highly recommends storytelling
• Jennifer Gillespie, Manager of Instructional Design, NSF International, uses chat boxes, polling, white boards, breakout rooms within her virtual platforms
• Show video examples of non-compliant practices
• Stray away from reading slides to your students

Pre-Covid, 80% of NSF courses were classroom style. NSF has since transitioned 50 classroom courses to ILVT this year. Mancini has conducted a plethora of research on learning principles and indicates that implementation of the “Spacing Effect” is key to making sure that students retain what they are taught.

Virtual learning has been used for many years and we are just beginning to see it skyrocket. The important thing is to remember that even though you are a subject matter expert in food safety, your students will benefit when you sharpen your skills and research effective learning models and techniques. As a personal example, I played softball from age seven through college. I eventually started coaching girls’ softball until I realized a hard truth that just because I knew the game, it didn’t make me a great coach.

The instructors interviewed for this piece highlighted classroom training to be the preferred style, however, ILVT is the best alternative solution given Covid and will resonate with students who can do the learning in a comfortable environment. Other benefits of virtual training include: reduced travel costs (time /transportation/ hotel); flexibility and availability especially to students doing distance learning; the cost of instructors using different platforms is minimal compared to renting classrooms, time, travel expenses, etc.

Matt Botos, CEO, ConnectFood, has been offering ILVT and would like to see classroom training increasing again soon. He stressed that the information in this article should “not be just guidance, but a way to give us all HOPE.”

Just as we ask our students, let’s do our homework and ensure that the learning experience is conducive to long term retention for the sake of food safety and prevention.

About the Author:

Jayne Roth is an independent Food Safety and public health consultant with a master’s degree in public health. She has worked with large companies, such as Amazon and Walmart, she has created assessments for facilities and she has marketed various company’s private Food Handlers Courses to public health jurisdictions for approval. Her special interests include infectious disease control and food safety rule interpretations. She is well-versed in food safety regulatory compliance and regulatory structure of public health jurisdictions.