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Rethinking training: a human factors perspective

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Recent research by HSE identified training and competency as a causal factor in 11 of 16 major accidents. There are several influencing factors that impact on competency beyond the actual training, but all too often organisations only focus on the act of training itself.


The application of human factor principles continues to gain weight across industry sectors and business areas, particularity health and safety, as the benefits of a user-focused approach are continually recognised. One area that may also benefit from the use of a human factors approach is training and competency management.

Training and competency remains among the 10 human factors issues that influence performance, according to HSE and the Energy Institute; furthermore, recent research by HSE identified training and competency as a causal factor in 11 of 16 major accidents.

So what is the solution, simply providing more training to the workforce? In the complete absence of training, it is a good starting point. However, accidents are often the result of a complex web of contributing factors, including poorly designed procedures, plant and user interfaces and organisational factors such as high workloads, staffing, leadership and culture. It could be argued that these other factors, in turn, affect workplace training and competency and that they are in fact interlinked.

Ultimately there are several influencing factors that impact on training and competency other than the actual training, which needs to be considered. However, organisations and training departments typically only focus on the act of training itself.

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT)
CLT has become a well-established theory in the area of learning and instructional design. It identifies three sources of cognitive load – the amount of information our minds can hold and the tasks we can perform with that information – that must be considered in order to successfully transfer learning to an individual.

  • Intrinsic load: this is based on the complexity of the task, for instance learning to drive a car is less complex compared to a commercial plane. The existing level of expertise of the learner, for instance, or transferable knowledge can also have an effect on intrinsic load.
  • Extraneous load: this is related directly to the way that the instructional materials are presented, such as the load placed on a learner’s short term memory, as well as redundant and competing information that has to be processed by the learner, but is not relevant to the learning.
  • Germane load: this is concerned with the learner’s opportunity to construct schema – structures of knowledge that allow us to perceive, think and solve problems – during training, such as through problem solving, practice and other interactive elements within a training session. This is sometimes associated with the motivational levels of learners, implying that motivation is increased when learners can interact in a learning environment.

In summary, CLT suggests three factors that determine the efficiency of learning: the complexity of the component to be trained, the presentation of information within training and the level of interactivity
or motivation created by the training.

Cognitive training and competency management model
The Cognitive Training and Competency Management Model (CTCM) is based on Cognitive Load Theory and is aimed to provide a holistic approach to the way in which organisations view and manage training and competency. Similar to CLT, CTCM focuses on the intrinsic complexity of the component, the efficiency of the training and the schema construction/motivational factors of training. Additionally, it extends the concept of schema construction and motivation beyond that of training.

  • Intrinsic design load: Intrinsic design load concentrates purely on design aspects of the component that will require training, such as software, equipment or procedures.Two important factors in this element of the model relates to the components’ level of usability and learnability. Thus it is important to invest time and effort in the design or selection of components for your business, with usability and learnability being considered as part an important part of the decision making process.
  • Knowledge transfer: this is concerned with the training itself. Within this element, extraneous and germane load are both key sub-elements that need to be addressed in much the same way as within CLT. Namely reducing redundant and competing information and increasing motivational aspects such as practice and problem solving opportunities.
  • Workplace transfer concerns itself with the extent to which knowledge and a skill are transferred to the workplace, predominately addressing organisational factors that can support or impinge on an individual’s motivation to retain and apply the learning. This builds on the concept of germane load. Arguably these workplace transfer factors have the most significant impact on workforce competency.

 

 

Culturally the organisation must promote and value learning in the same way as health and safety. There is much evidence to suggest that a good safety culture is vital for maintaining a safe workplace, thus it could also be assumed that a good learning culture is vital to produce a trained and competent workforce.

Training should not be viewed as a one off. Post-training support and ongoing practice opportunities should be considered to minimise information retrieval and schema decay (forgetting).

Workplace transfer can also be affected by other organisational factors, such as high workload, time pressures, manning levels and supervision, which if not addressed can have a negative impact on resulting in an increase likelihood of errors or violations to occur.

In conclusion, training remains a key process for developing a competent workforce. The CTCM model suggests a management framework that identifies three significant factors that should be considered during the pre-training, training and post-training stages, with these factors reaching far beyond the act of training alone.

While accidents and injuries remain a complex web of causal factors the implementation of the CTCM model should positively contribute to increasing workforce competency resulting in a safer and more efficient outcome.

Oliver Mellors is HSE learning and capability advisor at INPEX Australia

 

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