Training takes a great deal of time and money. So, it’s important that when we do it – we make the most of it and get it right. In this article, we look at what makes good training – great.
This article references the requirements in the following Standards:
|BRCGS Food Safety Issue 8||7.1 Training|
|BRCGS Packaging Issue 6||6.1 Training and competence|
|BRCGS Agents & Brokers Issue 2||5.1 Training and competency|
|Storage & Distribution Issue 4||8.1 Training and competency|
|FSSC22000 Version 5.1||ISO22000 – 7.2 Competence|
|IFS Food Version 7||3.3 Training and instruction|
|SQF Edition 9||2.9 Training|
The 10 elements of good training
At Techni-K we don’t make good training – we make great training. But what makes training ‘great’?
We believe there are 10 elements that makes great training, which are:
1. Has a clear purpose
Having a clear purpose for the training, may sound obvious. But because many of the current providers use accredited training which has been around for many years and has been tweaked along the way, the purpose has gotten lost or is out-of-date.
We’ll use our Food Safety & GMP eLearning as an example – the purpose of this training is to ensure that an operative working on site, who handles food or food packaging, understands:
- What they must do to ensure that the product is safe, legal and to the required quality.
- Why these tasks will impact safety, legality or quality.
Most current Basic Food Hygiene, or Level 2 Food Safety for Manufacturing training courses teach the learner about fines, prison sentences and the crazy long names of the legislation. None of which the learner remembers because it’s not helpful for them to know and it doesn’t meet the purpose of the training (shown above).
When looking for a training course, or developing one internally, start by writing out the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve.
That way, you can keep coming back to it – to check you’re still on track. Make sure you teach everything the learner needs to know (to meet the purpose) and nothing more than the learner needs to know (to meet the purpose).
2. Relevant to the role of the learner (level of training)
Who you’re training, should determine what level of detail you train them to. For example, an operator should get a different level of training, to a supervisor or a manager. And you’d expect a subject matter expert, to get the highest level of training.
The Standards imply that you should consider the level of training, but they’re not very clear about it.
For example, in the interpretation of BRCGS Food Safety clause 7.1.4 it explains you must provide a level of allergen training which is relevant to the role:
- That operators require a general understanding of allergens and any specific procedures.
- That the technical team require more in-depth knowledge.
Why the BRCGS have picked out allergen training specifically to provide this key piece of information, we’re not sure. And it would have been useful for them to say ‘management’ rather than the ‘technical team’ – as it should be a team effort. But – the idea is there.
You can see this too when you look at HACCP. The team leader needs a greater level of training than the other members of the HACCP team.
If we go back to our Food Safety & GMP eLearning as an example, for this training course we’re focusing specifically on training one type of role; an operative. Sure, we can train supervisors and managers using this course too, but our main priority is to focus on the role of an operative.
The training courses have been developed specifically to teach an operative what they need to know, why they need to know it and no more than that. That’s why we have decided to call this type of training – Operator Training, not ‘Basic’ or ‘Level 2’. It’s not basic, because an operative needs to have a good level of understanding. And, it’s not Level 2, because that’s an accredited training concept and we’re not working to that.
It’s Operator Training; because that tells you what it does – it’s designed to train operatives, to the level of understanding an operator needs to know.
3. Relatable to the learner’s day-to-day
If the training course is written specifically for the operative, it should be relatable to the operative’s day-to-day role. However, that would be if we were producing good training – which we’re not. To make it great, it needs to be even more relatable to the operative.
Many training courses teach the operative food safety rules that they need to know. But if the information isn’t presented so that they can immediately relate it to their work – then the lesson fails. It fails because, the learner has to make a leap of understanding between what they’re being taught and their job.
Let’s use an example to demonstrate this. This example is a from a real life training course – that we reviewed.
It explained that “pathogenic bacteria can survive due to inadequate cooking or processing”. And then it went on to explain that “a pathogen causes food poisoning”. Great – both pieces of information are very important!
But, for the operative to understand that information, they have to make connections – to be able to apply what they are being taught, to their job. They need to:
- Know what a pathogen is. Before the learner got to this point in the training course, they had only been told that it’s a bacteria that causes food poisoning. They then have to piece together the fact that a bacteria and a pathogen are the same.
- Know that it’s important to remove pathogens, because if not – they’ll cause food poisoning. And that one way of doing this is by cooking. Nowhere in the training course, did it join together the link that cooking kills pathogens.
- Understand that cooking isn’t the only way of killing pathogens. The training course explains that the ‘process’ must remove pathogens. It doesn’t explain that cooking is a process or what other ‘processes’ that do this are.
- Know what types of foods they handle would contain pathogens – this issue is very common. How would an operator know if the materials they handle every day contain pathogens?
- Know that the processing and cooking that they carry out on site, can kill pathogens, if carried out ‘adequately’. The operator isn’t told what ‘adequately’ means – so they have to make this assumption somehow.
These things may seem obvious, but when operators are learning something for the first time and they’ve got a lot of information to take in; they shouldn’t have to make so many connections or assumptions, to try to make sense of what they’re learning.
When deciding if training is suitable for what you’re looking at – the devil is in the detail. Looking at learning outcomes or the curriculum, won’t tell if you if the course is any good. Look at the training material analytically and do the course yourself – to really see if the key points are being explained.
Going back to our Food Safety & GMP eLearning as our example, here’s how we’ve ensured that the training is relatable, and the learner doesn’t have to make so many connections. You can use this as a guide to do your own assessment of our training courses:
- The illustrated information uses pictures that the operative will recognise from their day-to-day work.
- It doesn’t use words unless we’ve explained what they mean.
- It only explains new subjects where they’re relevant.
- It constantly relates the subject being taught, to the tasks that operatives do.
The aim of a course should be to allow the learner to solely concentrate on learning. The course should be so simple that it makes learning easy.
The technical standards that we work to are continually developing and becoming more stringent, which means the training that we provide has to match this pace of change. Unfortunately, training curriculums and the materials used to teach – don’t get updated as frequently (if at all) as the Standards do.
When looking for a training course, make sure that the training provider specialises in the Standard that you’re working to. There are many small variations between the Standards and the trainer needs to understand the interpretation of these.
Let’s look at our example. Historically, this type of training has always focused on just food safety. However, in today’s food industry there’s a lot more to it than that. Quality is really important, as consumers expect to get what they’ve paid for. Consumer trust has been impacted by fraud and so now, product fraud and product defence are also key training criteria. Operative training needs to continue to teach the fundamental elements of food safety, but it also needs to cover GMP topics as well, to make sure it’s relevant to today’s food industry.
We launched the first of our Food Safety & GMP for manufacturing training courses in 2018. We committed then, to updating our courses every 3 years, in line with the improvements to technical standards. As promised, 3 years later we have launched the remaining 16 courses and updated the 4 original ones. And, we continue to commit to updating all 20 courses every 3 years, to ensure that they stay – bang up to date.
We need to push the training industry to do the same – as sites who manufacture, pack, store and distribute, we have to adapt and continually improve, so why shouldn’t the training industry?
If you can’t keep the learner’s attention, you’ll never be able to teach them anything. And unfortunately, the subject of food safety etc. isn’t one that people are typically interested in. Which makes it even more important that we do everything we can to keep the learner’s interest.
If the information being taught is relatable as we’ve already discussed, it will make it much easier to keep the learner’s attention. We make sure that we keep the subject we teach simple and straight to the point, so that the learner doesn’t get bored. We use modern eye-catching images, so that the course is interesting to look at.
The course needs to be as interactive and practical as possible. Check how many exercises and practical activities the course includes. The average attention span of an adult is about 20 minutes, so we try to keep our learning blocks to a maximum of 20 minutes. Between each learning block, there should be an activity, break or practical exercise.
6. Simple to understand
The language and words used in the training should be straightforward and easy to understand. Complicated words should never be used, when there’s a much shorter direct way of getting the meaning across.
When we’re developing training, as a team we scrutinise each sentence, to see if it can be simplified or reduced in length. If there was a Guinness World Record for condensing a sentence we would win – hands down!
There’s no getting away from having to teach complicated subjects, but we believe it’s the responsibility of the teacher to make them easy to understand. If the learner doesn’t understand what we’re saying, it’s not their fault – it’s because it hasn’t been explained it in a way that the learner can understand.
It has been said, that the techniques we use to teach complicated subjects – are sometimes silly or childish. We make no apologies for this so if this isn’t your cup of tea, then we’re not the solution for you. What we can promise you though, is that the learner won’t forget it and more importantly they’ll have understood what they’ve learnt.
For example, we characterise microorganisms in our courses and even give them superpowers, which reflect the clever ways they survive. This helps the learner to relate to what they’re learning and remember it, so we can build on this knowledge later on.
When looking for a training course, make sure that you look at the language that’s used – to see if there are complicated words that could be replaced with simple ones. Also, do the course yourself – to see if you find it easy to understand.
7. Based on stories
We think that the very best way to learn is to learn through stories. If you’re a visual learner, the pictures in the story help you to link the information to what you’re seeing. You’ve probably been taught how to recall a list of items this way, by imagining a journey and linking what you need to recall, to things you see along the journey.
We’ve used both of these principles in our training. We tell a story and we take the learner on a journey. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Our story (in our Food Safety & GMP eLearning) begins with the learner arriving at our fictional site, as a new starter on their first day. They arrive virtually at security and meet Neil the security guard, who directs them through the turnstile and tells them to go to reception to sign in. At reception, Trisha helps them to complete the medical screening questionnaire and offers them a drink before they go into their induction….
All the way through the course, the learner meets different characters, who each talk to them in their own voice and teach them aspects relevant to their areas. Their tour, walks them around the different areas of the site until finally it’s home time.
This makes the topics easier to understand, as what they are learning is relevant to where they are on site and they can instantly relate what they’re learning to their job, because it looks just like their site.
The scenes in the course look like the inside of a site because we’ve drawn the images especially so that they do. We also use interactivity throughout the course, so that the learner progresses at their own pace and therefore they have to concentrate. There are also games, quizzes and interactive elements to keep the learner’s attention.
It’s not always possible to make a story out of what you’re trying to teach, but making it quirky, adding in a bit of fun, or characterising subjects to aid learning – will all help the learner retain the information.
8. Inclusion of different learning styles
Most people have a preference when it comes to learning, typically you find it easier to learn in one or more of the following ways:
- Visually by seeing information
- Reading written information
- Auditorily by listening to information
- Kinaesthetic by doing what you’ve been taught
It’s important that a training course provides the information in as many ways as possible – using all four learning styles.
Here’s how we do it in our courses.
All the learning content in the course is translated into pictures and using scenes which are familiar to the operative, as they look like their site. The lesson guide is full of pictures, to assist in the learners need for visual stimulation.
The transcript for the course is provided on the screen at all times, so that the learner can read along if they wish. The lesson guide also provides another way for a learner who learns best by reading written information that can be printed out.
The content of the course is read to the learner, so that they don’t have to read if they don’t want to. As the learner meets the team during the course, they speak to them in their own voices too, so this assists with keeping the auditory learners interested.
This type of learner loves to move, so keeping their hands busy helps them to learn. In order to progress through the course, the learner has to open speech or information bubbles to view and listen to the information. The course is also interspersed with games and activities to keep them motivated.
9. Provides a sense of accomplishment
Have you noticed how you enjoy things that you are good at? This is because it’s a key fundamental human behaviour to enjoy feeling a sense of accomplishment. Nobody wants to do something that they’re not good at, or that makes them feel bad about themselves.
When we were looking at courses provided by other Training Providers, we found that one of these would give the learner questions to answer – before they’d been taught that information. This is learning by error which we think only promotes a negative response by the learner, if they don’t know the answer before they’ve been taught it – we think it has potential to make them feel ‘stupid’.
It’s important to make the learner feel like they’re making progress, as this gives them a sense of accomplishment. Without this, the learner will switch off, as they feel like there’s no point in trying, because they can’t do it.
The learner wants to have a sense of achievement; that they’re able to understand what they’re being taught. They want to be able to answer the questions correctly and not feel like they’re being tricked. Many of the questions that we observed during our reviews of other training courses were written, so that it was difficult for the learner to understand the question – there were also answers which were designed to catch them out. Our aim is to check learner understanding – not try to catch the learner out.
This is also another reason why we don’t teach anything that the learner doesn’t need to know, because they won’t use it in their day-to-day role. Historical curriculums for Level 2 include teaching the operator all about legislation, the date that it was published and what fines the company will receive. This isn’t something that the learner needs to understand. Remembering what year the Food Safety Act was published will not help the operator do their job properly. Getting them to remember such things, doesn’t give them a sense of accomplishment – it also takes up time and diverts away from what they do need to learn.
When looking for a training course or if developing your own – make sure that the learner has the opportunity throughout the course, to prove that they’re making progress.
10. Assessment that checks learning
It’s essential that we check the leaners understanding, and when doing that – we’re not trying to trick them. This means questions must be written so that they can be easily understood. We’re not testing if they can understand a complicated question.
Here are some examples that we’ve seen, to explain what we mean.
Here is a question from our research:
“The definition of food safety is the absence of harm or illness from consuming food so it is safe to eat and drink. True or False?”
This question isn’t constructed well, which means you have to read it a few times to understand what it’s trying to ask. It could leave the learner feeling like they’re not sure if they’ve understood the question, so they’ll be unsure if they’ve answered it correctly.
You’ve got a 50% chance of getting a true or false question right, but a multiple-choice version of the question, would have been easier, for example:
“What is the definition of food safety?
Questions should start with a word that learners are familiar with and can start to work on quickly, such as what, why, when or how etc.
The writer of the question uses their skill, to make the question easy to understand and to provide answers which don’t trick, or give the answer away, but are plausible in the context of the question.
This question can be improved even further, by being really practical and testing that the learner can use their knowledge and apply it a practical example:
What is the BEST way to keep food safe?
- Always follow hygiene procedures on site.
- Report wrongdoing at the earliest opportunity.
- Inspect an area on site you do not work in.
You can see here that all the answers are plausible, as these are all practical aspects that could be applicable on site. A learner should be able to identify what the BEST answer is: a) Always following hygiene procedures on site.
Because our aim is to test the learner’s understanding; we also only ask questions about subjects that the learner has already been taught. And the subjects are based on the learning outcomes that we have set.
The questions we set are designed to help the learner understand what is exactly being asked of them, they are of short precise length, so that the learner can get to work on the answer immediately.
We don’t provide multiple choice answers that are designed to trick the learner and all options are plausible, so the learner is not able to choose an answer by elimination of silly answers.
So, when you’re choosing a Training Provider – ask about the test and review an example.
Make it worth every penny!
So now you know how to check your training, to make it worth every penny.
And now you know how much development goes into our Techni-K training courses, and that’s why we know our courses are the best out there.
We've tagged this article as: Training and competence
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The food industry’s most up-to-date version, of the old-fashioned Basic Food Hygiene training or Level 2 Food Safety training.