The movement to adopt e-learning has accelerated in the wake of COVID-19. Classrooms across the world have turned to remote learning as people conduct social distancing. This situation is creating new learning habits, and if the promise of the internet was in full swing before COVID-19, we’re now being forced to realize it completely.

The 21st century has witnessed the widespread adoption of education technology, reaching $18.66 billion in 2019 globally with projections to reach $350 billion by 2025. This demand for e-learning coincided with the rise of mobile devices, advanced multimedia, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. Organizations benefited from cost and time savings as workers completed online courses at their own pace.

Now, with countries around the world implementing quarantine, the available e-learning infrastructure has pivoted quickly, assisting safety leaders with COVID-19 implementation procedures and offering a needed path as we find ways to operate in a new normal. That value of this will continue to be reaped long after we’ve found a solution to our worldwide dilemma.

How Is the Safety Field Responding to COVID-19?

Like everyone else, those in safety responded to COVID-19 by operating virtually - through Zoom and Microsoft Teams technology, through email and text messaging.

(Learn more in Got Staff Working Remotely? Using Your Working Alone Procedures During COVID-19.)

These methods of interaction stood in stark contrast to the open-office and co-working environments that we felt so comfortable with in the very recent past. The truth is, we’ve proven that a remote office can work well. Whether or not the virtual office will remain the preferred choice moving forward is hard to predict, but it is clear that we’re alright with sustained communication through mobile and desktop devices.

Of course, not all workers retreated to their home offices during the Pandemic. Health services, trades, construction, manufacturing are only a few of the essential operations that had to find a new way to operate. Workers in these industries toil in the physical world, where the only safeguard against a COVID-19 outbreak are stringent safety protocols and isolation measures. But again, it is exactly this collective isolation that makes online learning so valuable. Essential workers have faced enormous challenges during this pandemic and many require education in mental health and relief against the mental strain.

(Learn about Safely Restarting Your Business During COVID-19.)

To combat this strain the Mental Health Commission of Canada released a free crisis training for essential workers during COVID-19 — online. This online learning program teaches essential workers how to deal with the big four mental health coping strategies, as part of the Mental Health Continuum Model. Many other online training solutions have followed suit.

Essential workers and home office workers still require worker safety training and certification. The large scale changes around us demonstrates that e-learning has a growing and valued place within the world of safety training, and companies are poised to continue making this choice in the wake of social distancing. Consider this, in 2017 (the last year to offer such statistics) 77% of US-based companies used e-learning as part of their training approaches. As this momentum continues, the future of e-learning becomes further ingrained in our habits and methodologies.

Is Learning Online As Effective As Traditional Learning?

We have all experienced traditional learning. From elementary school through college and university, these institutions are part of our lives. However, even these schools are investing heavily into online learning. People have discovered the effectiveness of its self-paced attributes, its wide breadth of subject matter, its cost-savings, and its pure convenience. With COVID-19 measures continuing in the months ahead, many post-secondary schools are quietly preparing to start the fall semesters online.

Despite its pace of growth, online training isn’t a silver bullet on every front. The safety industry continues to rely on certain in-person training components leading to certification, including equipment operation competency and confined space rescue techniques.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Safety Training?

From our perspective as safety experts, we can see how e-learning will continue to grow in its acceptance. Why take workers away from the jobsite for days at a time, traveling to attend a traditional course or seminar? It's expensive on two fronts - both the travel spend and the lost revenue back at the office.

On top of that, workers must stay current with safety certifications and that becomes achievable through online learning courses. Workers can take an hour out of their workday, complete a module on their mobile devices, and be back on the jobsite by mid-afternoon. Before the week is out they have renewed certification, making that person a valued and educated employee on the job.

The current pandemic is changing our world and it is difficult to see where this will lead. But one thing is already clear - the internet’s value has taken a step forward.

Online learning is a natural part of that progression, and online safety training plays a part. According to the e-Learning Industry, 72% of organizations believe that e-learning puts them at a competitive advantage. And if the investors of the world act like a barometer of future mass interest, then we are already seeing a healthy investment in next-generation companies focused on the educational space: Cognitive Learning, AI-Based Learning, Mixed Reality Learning (AR-based Learning and VR-based Learning). These e-learning tools are poised to become commonplace in the years ahead, and safety prevention will benefit as it pursues a digital path forward.