offer flexibility for reaching individuals beyond the traditional classroom and campus or large corporate training programs, and many organizations, public and private, have already begun to incorporate computer technology into worker training. Distance learning is used at many education levels, ranging from workplace training for specific preventive measures related to a hazardous substance to certificate, associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degree programs and continuing professional education. Technology-based education is expanding rapidly, with the expansion spurred by both the job needs and higher education institutions’ efforts to meet the needs of a changing workforce and student population. Distance learning programs in higher education programs initially focused on part-time students and nontraditional students located at a distance from the campus. These programs are now expanding and are being integrated into more traditional campus-based programs (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997).
Many state education systems have active distance education programs, including the states of Maine, Colorado, and Kansas. The governors of 15 states are developing a “virtual university” that will have no physical campus but will use computers and interactive video to provide instruction (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education has developed a cooperative arrangement for educational telecommunications that has 12 participating institutions, including Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, and the Universities of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1997). The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) held a workshop in April 1999 to assess the potential use of “advanced training technologies” for hazardous substance training. The ensuing report (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 1999) included a comprehensive analysis of existing and emerging technologies and concluded that NIEHS’s call for fiscal year 2000 hazardous materials training grants should include encouragement of applications for programs that pilot the use of advanced training technologies.
With the need for expanded training of workers in OSH, many of whom work in small establishments, and the need for professionals at every level, increased use of distance learning can help fill many of the currently unmet education and training needs. Distance learning is explored here as a potential means of facilitating lifelong learning by OSH professionals and more specifically as an alternative to traditional graduate training in occupational medicine and occupational health nursing, two professions with large numbers of practitioners without formal specialty training in the area.