There May Be Better Ways To Help Adults Learn And Retain Information They Gain From Educational Or Training Events.
By Joseph P. McGuire and Billy Snead
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations outline safety training requirements for all employees, contractors and visitors to mine sites. There are specific training requirements for those who work at underground or surface mines; for newly hired miners and site specific hazardous awareness training for visitors. Annual Part 48 (underground) or Part 46 (surface) Safety Training is required for miners and contractors who are considered miners.
Mining companies, in an effort to comply with annual MSHA training requirements, tend to conduct their Annual Refresher Training for Miners in a one eight-hour session. Trainers for these events typically use lectures, PowerPoint slides and videos to deliver their programs, which by virtue of the subject matter, are often seen by participants as less than exciting and very repetitive.
These types of delivery processes encourage participants to be passive and allow only minimal interaction or involvement. One can debate whether training delivered in this manner is effective or if there is transfer of knowledge. But a review of the literature indicates there may be better ways to help adults learn and thus, retain information they gain from educational or training events. Studies show individuals generally retain (Klatt 1999):
- 10 percent of what is read to them.
- 20 percent of what they hear.
- 30 percent of what they see.
Based on the research, it would seem that a great deal of information presented in a typical eight-hour training event, using the delivery process described above, is neither heard nor retained by the participants.
On the other hand, these same studies show retained learning is much higher if participants are involved and active. When an educational or training process is selected which allows individuals freedom to participate or interact, they retain:
- 70 percent of what they say.
- 90 percent of what they say and do.
Research (Pike 1989) has also found adult learning is improved when “hands-on” and life experiences are incorporated into training sessions. Providing adult learners with structured learning activities will generate interaction and discussions that will encourage them to come up with ideas, questions, suggestions and solutions to problems or issues. This process will be more effective at helping adults learn than will giving them facts, rules and other information to remember. Repetition of information adults have already learned will not increase their level of knowledge and will probably do very little to change their opinions, beliefs or behaviors. Adults will learn what they want or need to know and will reject what they perceive to be of little or no value to them.
This document focuses on providing educational or training opportunities to employees that are of value and from which they will gain new information. In addition, it looks at a process to use in delivering employee education or training to help reach those goals rather than “train for compliance,” which is too often the case.
Cessford Construction Co., part of Oldcastle Materials Group, Midwest Division, must comply with all safety regulations and training requirements written by the MSHA and are focused on protecting the health and safety of all miners, contractors and visitors to its mine sites.
There are specific training requirements for those who work at underground or surface mines, for newly hired miners and site-specific hazardous awareness training for visitors. Annual Part 48 (underground) or Part 46 (surface) Safety Training is required for miners and contractors who are considered miners.
For many years, Cessford Construction Co. has complied with MSHA Training Regulations by providing eight hours of annual safety training to its employees. Over the years this training was generally provided in one eight-hour session and, for the most part, delivered in the same manner: lecture, overhead projection, slides and video tapes.
In recent years, overhead projectors, slides and videotapes have been replaced by computers, PowerPoint slides and YouTube videos, but the lecture component remains the same. The technology has changed, but the delivery process has not and to most employees who are required to participate in this annual training event, it remains repetitive, old and worn.
Annual MSHA Eight-Hour Refresher Training has been described by company employees as “boring,” “repetitive,” and “long.” Because it is viewed this way, employees do not look forward to attending when they know it is going to be “the same old thing.” Those attending the sessions are usually quite passive; do not ask questions and may or may not respond to questions from the trainer.
Generally, involvement takes the form of answering an occasional question or responding to them by way of a hand-held device. While these may seem to get participants to “move,” they do not really meet the definition of employee involvement, participation or interaction.
Training delivered using this process does little to generate participant discussion, stimulate thinking or encourage creativity. Rarely, after attending, have participants provided positive comments regarding annual mining refresher training. In fact, the opposite is more often the case!
In early 2013, Chad Ferguson, general manager, and Don Smith,safety director, from Cessford Construction met with the authors of this article. During this meeting Ferguson and Smith shared the complaints and comments they received from employees who had participated in the MSHA Annual Refresher training. They asked what could be done differently with this training to get employees involved and make it of value to them.
From these discussions it was decided to:
- Continue to provide Annual Refresher in one eight-hour day or session.
- List the areas or safety topics which would be relevant for company employees.
- Develop a training process which would get employees active and involved by:
- Interacting in small group discussion.
- Participating in group activities and structured exercises.
- Having trainer play the role of facilitator versus “teacher.”
- Using a minimal number of PowerPoint slides.
- Limit facilitator’s “lectures” to topic introductions and reviews.
Working within these parameters, the following MSHA Refresher Training program was developed.
Miner Education Program
Several processes or ways to deliver the company’s annual miner refresher training were discussed. Initially it was decided to present safety topics by way of a brief PowerPoint and lecture followed by a structured or guided exercise designed to encourage employee involvement through small group discussion. But as the training program evolved, it became evident it still lacked employee involvement because it was too dependent upon using PowerPoint slides and lectures for the delivery process.
However, reducing the number of slides and amount of lecture time created a challenge to provide quality training and, at the same time, meet MSHA’s eight-hour training requirement. In the end, slides, short videos and “brief” lectures were designed and used to introduce topics or for reviewing subject matter. Originally several hundred slides made up the training presentation but after it was re-designed, the number was reduced to 102, of which:
- 46 were pictures used to stress points.
- 14 were selected to introduce the various safety topics.
- 13 were used for subject matter review.
- 29 provided introductory comments or other information.
In order to change what has traditionally been a passive training process, it was decided to take the information from the PowerPoint slides and convert it to a different format that would require participants to become more active in the learning process.
The process began with Ferguson and Smith providing a list of topics on which they wanted employees to be provided information during their 2014 MSHA eight-hour annual miner refresher training. The topics included:
- The Mine Act, Miner Act and Miner’s Rights.
- Accident Prevention.
- Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
- Personal Fall Protection Systems.
- Explosive Safety.
- Emergency Response (First Aid).
- Electrical Safety.
- Right-to-Know/Hazardous Materials Communication.
- Lockout/Tag Out.
- Hearing Conservation.
- Site Specific Training.
- Machine Guarding.
- Ground Control.
The information contained in the PowerPoint slide presentation was determined to be of value for safety education of all employees, but providing it to them using eight hours of slides and lectures was not an option. Instead, information on the slides was converted into a 78-page booklet titled, “MSHA Eight-Hour Refresher Education.”
Written in workbook fashion, it included 13 sections which dealt with the topics listed above and drafted in a manner which required participants to read, think and answer questions on the subject matter being covered. In addition, each section of the workbook included at least one structured activity or a small group discussion in which to participate.
Prior to delivering this educational program to all Cessford Construction Co. employees, an abbreviated version was provided to a several of its managers. This was done to elicit feedback on providing annual training in this manner; to get suggestions or input on the presentation and to determine timelines to ensure the training would meet hourly requirements, but not exceed the allotted time.
Based on feedback from this session, it was decided to proceed with employee training using this delivery process and modify it to ensure all topics would be adequately covered in eight hours.
Delivery Process Outline
This employee education session was developed around the 13 topics selected by Ferguson and Smith from Cessford Construction Co. Billy Snead, OMG Central Division HSE manager, and Raquel Whitehill, OMG Midwest Division safety manager, facilitated the entire training event.
In order for this process to work effectively, participants had to be seated in small groups with only four to six at a table rather than in typical “classroom” style where they sit in rows. To ensure this was done, the tables were moved away from one another and no more than six chairs were placed at each.
Participants were given “assigned” seating to encourage them to meet and interact with employees from other plants and projects. For this session, 10 tables with either five or six employees seated at each were set up to accommodate the 56 employees who were attending the training.
All topics or modules were presented in this manner:
- Each session was opened with a brief introduction regarding the topic and its importance. The opening comments were accompanied by one or two slides or short video.
- To get employees involved, the facilitators asked them questions or requested they share experiences dealing with issues, near misses or similar things related to the topic being discussed.
- Following the discussion, participants were asked to complete a section in the workbook by reading and answering questions. (To relieve their anxiety regarding the questions, they were told to discuss the answers with others at their table and if that failed, the answers could be found at the end of each section of the book.)
- When everyone was finished with their workbook assignment, the facilitators encouraged participants to become involved in a discussion about the topic.
- To further emphasize the importance individuals play in making good decisions when safety issues arise in the workplace, participants, interacting with others in their small group, were asked to discuss a case study, problem or situation presented to them in a structured exercise or activity.
- When this task was completed, each group was asked to provide their solutions or suggestions for correcting the problems outlined it the activity or case study. To stress the importance of the answers or comments small groups provided, some were written on white boards and processed even further with guidance from the facilitators.
- Learning takes place when life experiences are discussed and facilitators took an opportunity during this time to draw out employee experiences so that others might gain insight and benefit from them.
- Before moving on to the next module or topic, facilitators, using one or two slides, conducted a review of the subject matter that had just been discussed. In each review, questions were posed about the topic and responses elicited from participants.
The process described above was followed for all 13 topics. The time it took to present the topics varied from 15 or 20 minutes to almost an hour depending on the length of group discussions. This program easily filled eight hours of class time required by MSHA Regulations.
Cessford Construction Co. employees responded favorably to their MSHA eight-hour Annual Refresher Training. They appeared to be engaged during the entire eight hours; openly shared experiences and when asked, interacted with others in activities and discussion groups. During the final two hours of the program, the energy level of the participants seemed to wane somewhat, but they continued to be involved and contributed to the process until the session ended.
Verbal and written comments from participants indicate acceptance of this process and an appreciation of safety staff efforts to make their annual MSHA Refresher Training a more meaningful experience. Several employees with more than 20 years of service indicated this was the “best” MSHA safety training in which they ever participated; others mentioned the format, getting involved and being active in discussions was really good and seemed to make the day go by faster.
Perhaps one of the more unique comments came from a long-time employee who noted he has been coming to MSHA training for more than 20 years and this is the first time he “did not see anyone nodding-off.” This may be a good metric to measure effectiveness of this or any training program.
As part of written evaluations, participants were asked to provide written comments which asked:
- What did you like best about this training program?
- What did you dislike about this training program?
The responses to what employees disliked were interesting in that none were about the program, topics, delivery process or having to be involved. They dealt with the size of the room, uncomfortable chairs and it (training) being too long. None of the usual comments, such as the training was “boring” or “the same old thing,” were listed in the comments.
Some of the comments about what they liked in this training included:
- It was “different.”
- New training; I learned more today than in the past.
- The small groups; liked the discussion; liked being able to discuss issues.
- The workbook; liked using the workbook; the idea of using workbook was good.
- Less boring, liked the overall program; more interesting; liked all; good topics.
- Group participation; personal interaction; group input; involvement.
- The training was fun.
- Safety Staff should be commended for their hard work of preparing for this training.
- Had to participate and think.
All of these comments, both written and verbal, confirm how well this educational program was received by the participants. Being involved or engaged, having to think and having fun are not comments normally associated with or used to describe the eight-hour MSHA Annual Refresher Training.
But perhaps the most significant comment came from one of the company’s resident loader operators. With more than 25 years of service and a veteran of many annual refresher training sessions, he said “this was the best training he ever had with the company” and he could “tell a lot of work went into putting it together.”
In addition he indicated that “there was only one problem with the training ... you have set the bar so high, what are you going to do next year to make it even better than this training?” This comment seems to sum up how providing training or an educational session in a different manner can have a positive impact and encourage learning to occur when participants are engaged in the process.
In addition to the verbal and written comments, a 10-question survey was provided to all who participated in this MSHA Annual Refresher Training. The survey was designed to elicit feedback on how participants liked this training as compared to past years; how they liked the delivery process and how they liked being involved (workbook and small groups) rather than being passive (watching slides and lectures).
Questions 1-7 on the survey asked respondents to rate the items on a scale from 1 (Disagree) to 7 (Agree); on questions 8-10, they were asked to read a statement and the select either answer “a” or “b.”
1. When asked if they “learned more about safety from this MSHA Annual Refresher Training program than in previous sessions which used PowerPoint presentations and movies,” 87 percent indicated they agreed with the statement while 1 percent disagreed with it; 12 percent were neutral. The average score on this statement was 5.8.
2. Approximately two-thirds of those attending the class or 64 percent said “having someone show slides and read them to me for eight hours during MSHA annual refresher training does not help me learn about safety;” 10 percent of those who were asked this question were neutral and 26 percent felt they learn in this manner. The average score on this item was 5.1
3. 94 percent of those who participated in this program agreed that, “as compared to the way MSHA Annual Refresher Training was presented in the past, this one was much better;” 5 percent of the responses were considered neutral and only 1 percent disagreed. The average score on this statement was 6.2.
4. Reflecting on past MSHA Annual Refresher Training only 30 percent of employees said they “were very active and took part in the learning process;” 58 percent of them disagreed with statement and 12 percent were neutral. The average score on this statement was 3.4.
5. When asked if “participating in exercises, which dealt with safety topics covered during this training program, helped me better understand them (safety topics),” 87 percent of respondents agreed with the statement; 12 percent were neutral and 1 percent disagreed with it. The average score on this item was 6.0.
6. Respondents to this survey said that “by using the workbook I believe I learned more about the safety topics which were discussed,” 85 percent agreed with this statement; 12 percent were neutral and 3 percent disagreed with it. The average score on this item was 5.9
7. A vast majority of those who participated in this training program, 94 percent, indicated that “this MSHA Refresher Program allowed me to opportunity to participate in what was going on;” 4 percent disagreed with the statement and 2 percent were neutral. The average score was 6.0.
In an effort to determine how they prefer to learn, the remaining items on the survey asked participants to provide their first choice to general statements about training.
8. Statement #1: “When I participate in training, I think I like being: “involved and active during the session or ‘read to’ all day long” – 96 percent of those who participated in this class prefer being involved and active during training.
9. Statement #2: “When I participate in training, I would like to be: “treated as an adult or spoon-fed like a child.” Again, 96 percent of participants indicated they would like to be treated as an adult when they are involved in training.
10. Statement #3: “When training sessions are being developed, I would like an opportunity to: “have input into what I want to learn or have people tell me what I want to learn” – 94 percent of those responding to this item indicted they would like to choose what they want to learn.
A second survey provided to participants by the Center for Business at Southeastern Community College (Iowa) found this training highly rated. The respondents to this survey were asked to rate items on a scale from Excellent (5) to Very Poor (1). Responses to items on the survey are as follows:
- The content of the class addressed the needs I had for attending. Agreed: 92 percent
- The materials for this class were useful and complimented the training. Agreed: 90 percent
- Activities and practical experiences were provided the supported the class. Agreed: 88 percent
As pointed out earlier in this document, Billy Snead and Raquel Whitehill facilitated the delivery of this educational event and participant responses indicated they performed rather well.
- The instructors demonstrated knowledge of the subject matter. Agreed: 94 percent.
- The instructors presented materials in a clear and interesting way. Agreed: 94 percent.
- The instructors stimulated discussion and involvement with the group. Agreed: 96 percent.
Summary and Recommendations
The data generated from the surveys, used to evaluate this training, overwhelmingly indicate delivering training or educational sessions to adults using processes other than PowerPoint slides and lectures are effective and should be explored as alternatives.
Adults learn differently from children. Malcolm Knowles, in his research on how adults learn suggested:
- Children depend upon others to tell them what they should learn; adults decide what is important for them and what they want to learn.
- Children accept information at face value; adults need to validate information.
- Children expect what they learn to be of value in the future; adults want learning to be useful immediately.
- Children have little or no experiences on which to draw; adults have extensive experiences upon which to draw.
Based on their needs, motivation and experiences, adults will choose what they want to learn and thus what they retain. The learning process is enhanced when the trainer, instructor or facilitator allows participants to interact and be involved in discussions of topics or issues; encourages inquiry and helps them find answers or solutions.
Knowles points out “Adults’ experiences are a rich resource for learning. Active participation in planned experiences – such as discussions or problem solving exercises and analysis of those experiences and their application to work or life situations – should be the core methodology for training adults.”
There is an abundance of research available that deals with how adults learn. In his book Creative Learning Technique, Robert Pike suggests “adults bring a wealth of experience that must be acknowledged and respected in the training setting” and “that adult learning is enhanced by hands-on experience that involves adults in the learning process.”
Training or educational sessions that incorporate participants’ experiences; encourage engagement and interaction; provide planned, hands-on problems solving exercises or case studies; and are facilitated through small group discussions should be considered when developing learning events for adults. Programs that include these elements in the delivery process increase the probability that learning will take place; and the amount of information that is retained will go up substantially.
Research shows retained learning can be affected by the delivery process. As noted previously in this document, Klatt found the amount of retained learning from training that uses only visual aids and lectures is in the 20-30 percent range as compared to 70-90 percent when the process involves discussion (what they say) and what they do (hands on).
In a similar study, Helen W. Post, in her document “Teaching Adults: What Every Trainer Needs to Know about Adult Learning Styles,” pointed out adults recall approximately 10 percent percent of the information they hear; 20 percent of what they see; and 70 percent of what they do or experience.
The written and verbal comments provided by those who participated in this MSHA eight-hour Annual Refresher Training indicate they liked the delivery process and thought it to be a positive learning experience. In addition, the data generated from the surveys, used to evaluate this training, overwhelmingly support delivering training or educational sessions to adults using processes other than PowerPoint slides and lecture are effective and should be explored.
About the Authors
For the past 30 years, Dr. Joe McGuire has worked in the construction-aggregate production industry dealing primarily with the planning/zoning process, environmental permitting, compliance issues and educational/training, while also participating in many aggregate mine-development and permit requests at the county level, which required involvement in the public hearing process.
Billy Snead, CSP, is the EHS Director of Oldcastle Materials' Central West Division. He holds a BS in Occupational Safety & Health BS is from Dubuque University. He has also done graduate work at Gonzaga University, and has worked for the company for 10 years.