Distance learning technologies have the capability of meeting the educational needs at all levels for the field of OSH. From short training modules at the workplace or home to full graduate degree programs, the distance learning technologies can be used alone or in tandem. The advantages of distance learning include the flexibility of the sites of learning, the ability to draw on expertise from multiple institutions to tailor the education content to the need, the ability to use multiple modalities to reinforce traditional classroom-type activities, economies of scale, and replicability. Disadvantages include infrastructure costs for techniques such as teleconferencing, absence of hands-on skill instruction, potential isolation of students, faculty resistance and the need to train faculty to use distance learning modalities, lack of capability for informal “corridor consultation,” and potential high direct costs depending on the technology used and the number of students enrolled.
With the dramatic changes that have occurred and that will occur in the workplace and in the composition of the workforce, flexible new methods of training workers and professionals in occupational health and safety need to be considered for all environments. Distance education techniques can be used not only to transmit discrete modules on specific toxic substances but also to provide access to degree programs and ongoing continuing education for busy OSH professionals. The learning can take place in the home, at the work site, at local community sites, or on college and university campuses.
The committee concludes that although traditional approaches remain indispensable for some types of instruction, NIOSH should develop incentives to promote the use of distance education and other non-traditional approaches to OSH education and training. An indispensable part of these innovative programs should be the thorough evaluation of both the program content and the performance of their graduates in relation to the performance of graduates of traditional programs in such areas as credentialing examinations and job placement.