Microlearning and Behavior Based Safety (BBS)

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Good afternoon and welcome to today’s EHS Today webcast. Microlearning and Behavior-based safety (BBS): A perfect fit for today’s realities, sponsored by Axonify. My name is Stefanie Valentic, associate editor at EHS Today.

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I would now like to introduce our speakers. Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations and writing in the fields of behavioral and cultural safety, leadership and operational performance, and is a regular speaker at NSC events. He’s a veteran of over 1600 safety culture and performance improvement engagements in 39 countries and has personally assisted organization such as Georgia-Pacific, Williams Gas Pipeline, US Pipeline, Herman Miller, AstraZeneca, Wrigley, ALCOA, Merck, Rockwell Automation, the United States Armed Forces, and many others. Terry has been a frequent contributor to industry magazines for more than 15 years and a co-author of five books and more than 100 articles and spoken at hundreds of public and private events.

EHS Today has listed Terry four consecutive times as one of the 50 people who most influenced EHS.

Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify Inc, a disruptor in the corporate learning space and innovator behind the Axonify microlearning platform, proven to increase employee knowledge and performance necessary for achieving targeted business results. Prior to that, Carol was the CEO of PostRank Inc, a social engagement and analytics company that she sold to Google in June 2011. Previously, Carol held CEO positions at several other technology firms, including RSS solutions and Fakespace Systems. Carol is a frequent speaker, a regular contributor to Fortune Magazine and a well respected thought leader whose articles appear in various learning, business and technology publications. She also sits on the board of many organizations, both charitable and for profit, and advises a variety of high tech firms in Canada’s technology triangle.

Carol has won multiple awards including the Waterloo region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Intrepid Award and the Sarah Kirk Award for Canada’s leading female entrepreneur. Welcome, Carol. The floor is yours.


Carol Leaman: 

Thank you very much, Stefanie. We are excited to be here talking about microlearning and it’s link to behavior based safety, which is an emerging area, and as the slide says, a perfect fit for today’s reality. And Terry and I are hopefully going to convey some of that to all of you in attendance today.

So what we’re going to focus on are BBS. What is it? Terry, as a real expert in this area is going to talk about what that is, and why it’s important, and link that to today’s realities in business. And I’m going to come back and introduce microlearning for those of you who aren’t familiar with it or have some level of familiarity with it, we’ll talk a little bit about what that is and why it’s important and how it can impact each phase of behavioral based safety. And then we’re going to end with some slides that show some real live corporate stories about microlearning in action.

But before we get going and I hand it off to Terry, we have a little poll for all of you and we’d like to understand where you are in this journey. So if each of you could select where you sit, is it you don’t know what BBS is and you’re looking to understand it, you haven’t started yet, you’re thinking about it, you’re in the process of implementing BBS, so you understand it and are down that path, or you know about it, you may be tried some things and now you want to kickstart it again. So if all of you can make your selection, we will look at the poll results. I’ll give you three more seconds. One, two, and three.

So, wow. Quite a cross section of levels of understanding and activity with respect to the journey. So looks like the better number of you are in the process of implementing it, so hopefully you’ll learn a few things, tips, techniques, and some things in terms of thought that you might want to apply. It looks like many of you have started and stopped and are looking to restart. So yeah, that’s awesome. And we’re hoping that you all get something to take away no matter where you are in this journey.

So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Terry, and he’s going to delve into really some nuts and bolts with respect to behavioral based safety to kick us off. So over to you Terry.


Terry L. Mathis:

All right, thanks Carol. By the way, I was really impressed with your introduction. The two of us sound like we’ve been around for a while and know what we’re doing when Stefanie tells our story anyway. Well, this is a little tongue in cheek folks. What we’re saying, behavior based safety has changed rapidly over the years, ah, it hasn’t. I’m sorry. It’s changed about as fast as that dog riding the turtle there. There has been some evolution in behavior based safety, but there hasn’t been a major revolution, and I really honestly believe that this new technology of microlearning is what’s going to enable that revolution in behavior based safety.

So there’s a little bit of everything out there in the world called behavior based safety right now, some of it is pure psychology, some of it is pure sociology, some of it is pure behavioral science, and some of it is other kinds of bs, including people who own a warehouse full of goods that wants you to give it away to people if they do what you ask them to do. But really, the mainstream of behavior based safety has several things in common. I want to get you thinking about that. Behavior based safety is basically a way to focus workers on specific behaviors that are crucial for safety. Interesting thing. I’ve just done an assessment of an organization last week, and I asked the workers there, what one thing that you could do that’s within your power would prevent the most accidents? Nobody told me the answer that matched their accident data.

So one of the things behavior based safety can do is focus people on the things that have the most impact. Then you coach workers through observation and feedback and you gather data on what’s influencing these crucial behaviors either happening or not happening out there in the workplace and you use that data to address those cultural influences and conditional influences to facilitate these behaviors happening out there in the workplace. And the word facilitate, it’s kind of interesting, F-A-C-I-O in Latin means easy. So when you facilitate, you make it easy for somebody to be safe.

So, why would you want to do something like behavior based safety? First of all, it’s an advanced strategy. If you haven’t done the basics of safety, you might not be ready to do something like this, because this isn’t a simple problem solving. Problem solving tends to say, if you’ve dug yourself in a hole, how do you get back up to level with the surface? Innovation says, how do you go above and beyond? I just wrote a blog that I was talking about, do you do things better or you do you do better things? And continuous improvement is an interesting mindset that you need to get people into.

One of my favorite quotes, I’m a big fan of a philosopher and poet named E.E. Cummings, but he said, “No best is ever quite so good you can’t conceive a better.” We’ve actually encouraged several of our leading clients not to call them best practices but to call them better practices because best means there’s nothing better out there, and almost always, there is, and it kind of defeats the idea of continuous improvement.

Behavior based safety started … people started dabbling with it in 1979. It was mainstream in America by 1985, and the way we did it back then hasn’t changed enough over that period of time. So, what are today’s realities that are different than they were in 1985? Well, first of all, staffing is fabulously more lean. There are very few warm body standing around waiting for an assignment out there in industrial America right now. Supervision is tremendously reduced. Workers used to be able to count on their boss and ask their boss on a regular basis, they used to be readily available, but very few organizations have a supervisor in every department on every shift anymore. In fact, some only have one supervisor per shift or one for the whole facility for all shifts.

There’s fabulously more diversity in the workplace than there was in 1985, for a number of different reasons. There are also new generations of workers coming up that have different characteristics than the old generations that were kind of predominantly in the workforce back in 1985. There is also a tremendous overload of information. With the Internet, with all the tools at our disposal right now, most people get fabulously more information than they can actually handle even on their own performance. And there are more things that interrupt the workflow. In 1985, you could talk on the phone before you went to work, you could talk after you get off, you couldn’t talk during the time you were at work, and now with cell phones and mobile devices, you’re in constant contact, so there’re more things to interrupt the workflow.

Now, all of those are kind of bad news, but the good news is we’ve had some rapid advances in brain science and in technology that have enabled a whole new possibility of how we can do safety out there in the workplace. So matter of fact, last September, a book came out called Industry 4.0, and it basically says we are in the fourth industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution was simply mechanization and mainly used existing water and steam power. So, what happened is basically instead of having a bunch of human beings stand around a pile of cotton and pull the seeds out, we now had a machine that could separate the seeds out of the cotton.

Then the second level of industrial revolution is when we got into technology like mass production and assembly lines, and we started introducing new power supplies like electricity. The third industrial revolution was simply hooking computers up and automating things. But this fourth one is going to be about what they call cyber physical systems, and to my thinking, microlearning is one of those, and not only is it one of them, I think it is the leading one and the one that we should adopt first if we’re really going to prepare ourselves for what this fourth industrial revolution is going to bring in terms of safety.

So, what is this microlearning? Let me turn it back over to Carol and let her take you through some of the basics of that.


Carol Leaman:

Thanks very much, Terry. Microlearning, which I’m hoping is a little bit familiar to many of you is one of those things that has been called in years previous, bite sized learning or nano learning, there’s a variety of terms that have been used over the years. But it seems that the industry has landed on microlearning as the ubiquitous term that we’re now using to describe the approach. So what is that approach? It really is an approach to training or learning that very, very simply, delivers the content that an employee needs to know in very short focused bites. So, not long form content, not that fire hose that Terry just mentioned, not the overwhelm where we pull people into classrooms, sit them down for hours, overload them with many things, and then expect them to go out onto the floor or into the workplace remembering and operationalizing what they learned in that hours long or sometimes days long session, and expect them to perform.

Microlearning is the opposite of that. It’s very short focused and literally woven into the daily workflow of the individual, and because it’s short, because it is focused, and using a variety of other brain science techniques, it can actually be mapped to how a human being truly learns and truly retains that knowledge so that they can turn it into action in the moment of need.

So why is it that microlearning has become so prevalent? Well, really what’s happened particularly or recognized in fact over the last five to 10 years are three things that have collided together and turned microlearning into what we now know is one of the best approaches to drive memory and retention and then behavior change.

First, the characteristics of the modern employee. So, employees today are overwhelmed, as Terry mentioned, very little time. They’re expected to perform, they have many things coming at them, phone calls, as Terry mentioned, and other forms of communication. They’re just inundated with information and that leads to increasing knowledge demands on the part of the employees. It’s no longer the case that you can wait around to find something else. People are expected to know in the moment and to turn that knowledge into action to maximize the opportunity for their employer. So, those expectations are more than they’ve ever been.

And finally, there have been, again, as Terry mentioned a moment ago, some really interesting advancements in brain science and technology that give us an understanding of how best the brain learns for the longterm, and microlearning, in short focused bites, maps to the reality that a human being is really, really good at retaining four to five new pieces of information in one session. Once you exceed four to five pieces of information, and in fact, even attention span is shorter than it’s ever been, you start to lose that employee in terms of any kind of retention. So, there’s so much knowledge out there now that can be mapped with the characteristics of the modern employee and the demands on them to really make the learning experience highly effective.

So I’m going to turn it back to Terry now to talk about how microlearning can impact each phase of BBS.


Terry L. Mathis:

Thanks, Carol. Isn’t this interesting? I was the director of training for a little company called Coca Cola in my corporate career before I started my own company, and we always recognized the limitations of training. Training is not a standalone intervention. It never was, it never really can be. You need some kind of followup to the training to really make it stick, and the longer the training is, the more followup you need because you’ve, again, you’ve had your trainees drinking out of that proverbial fire hose with just entirely too much information. So, what happens?

When we train internal consultants, these are people who go back to their own organizations and implement behavior based safety, we tell them basically your job is twofold. One, is you need to be a trainer, but the other is you need to be a consultant. And the truth is very few people are good, effective trainers. They can convey information, but to really make it stick is really difficult. So guess what happens when you introduce something like microlearning, it facilitates everything. It patches up the weaknesses and the technology and the approach that we’ve taken to behavior based safety in the past.

So as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of different things called behavior based safety, but the mainstream of them have several elements, and I wanted you to think about those as we go. First of all, behavior based safety is a process to help workers be even safer than traditional safety can make them. So you’ve got a worker out here doing his job, what makes him or her safe out there doing this job? Well, first of all, they have two tools. One is called common sense, a term that a lot of people disagree with and don’t say, but you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You’re talking about the ability to predict the outcome of certain events. So why do you not stick a piece of metal in the electrical outlet on the wall? Because you can predict how it’s going to turn out.

The other is experience. So as a worker learns and sees the experience of himself and others, they actually expand their ability to predict how things will turn out. The third is what I call traditional safety, which is basically rules and regulations, rules and procedures. So we teach people if you’ll follow this set of procedures, you’ll minimize your danger doing this particular job. So how do we take this person that already has these three tools and make them even safer? That’s the goal of behavior based safety.

So the first thing we do is we put together some kind of governance body for the process. We call it a steering team, most often, although sometimes it’s called a committee, or a group or any other number of terminologies that you can use. The first thing that we do with that group is teach them what behavior based safety is. Now, guess how much that could be facilitated through microlearning modules? The next thing that we do is we ask them to Pareto analyze with a special worksheet that we’ve developed, which behaviors could have prevented the most accidents. Now again, we’ve known for a long time what Carol just mentioned, and that is people can’t retain more than four or five pieces of information in one setting. So even if we identified 20 behaviors that could impact safety, we tend to work on them four or five at a time. So that’s what we put on this checklist, and once we get them internalized into the workers, we can move on and do others.

How do we do that? We do it through a process called observation. Observation is where we take a person, we train them, they go out into the workforce, and they see are people doing these behaviors that we want them to do on the checklist or are they not? If they are, we record that by the way, and then we give them something called feedback. If they’re doing the behavior safely that we have on the checklist like that, we encourage them to continue. This is called positive reinforcement. If they are not, we try to find out why. What is influencing this person to do or not do this particular behavior? This information and traditional behavior based safety usually goes to a data entry person who types it off of a piece of paper into the computer. This data is crunched and comes back to the steering team, and the steering team uses this data to create things we call action plans.

So for instance, if one of the behaviors that we’re talking about is using the right tool for the job, if we see a worker using the right tool for the job, we say, “Good job. Way to go. Keep it up.” If they’re not, we say, “I’m concerned about that. Why are you using the wrong tool for the job?” What if the worker tells us that the main thing that’s influencing this is that the tools are located too far from where they’re needed. That information comes back to the steering team and the steering team could develop an action plan to possibly get the tools moved closer to the workstations where they’re needed.

So if you look at this, these are the basic elements of traditional behavior based safety. You have the reality of the workplace, you have some kind of government body or steering team, you have a checklist, you have observers, and you have data entry. Now, all of this also requires support within the organization to exist. So, how can microlearning help each of these elements of behavior based safety be even more effective?

Well, what we’ve found is that we used to do a day long training for steering teams, and we found out that they lost 75% of everything they learned within 24 to 48 hours. So guess how effective traditional classroom training was in preparing a steering team? Microlearning modules over a little slower period of time but with very little interruption to work could accomplish the same thing much more effectively. The key concepts are learned and reinforced. Not only can the steering team learn these from a microlearning module, they can go back and revisit them anytime they forget or are shady on what they ought to be doing. Design decisions that are made by the steering team to customize the process for their particular site can be documented and reviewed, and they can revisit these from time to time. Design is something that never quite ends, so they continue to continuously improve their process with this information.

Observation data is available to the steering team in real-time, and most of our traditional processes, you have to wait till the end of the month to have some compilation of the data that’s coming in from observations, in microlearning, it’s coming in in real time. Communication with the observers can be immediate also. A steering team can look at something and say, we really need to focus on this particular area, or on this particular behavior, or on this particular influence, they can communicate that back to the observers in real time. They can communicate with the workforce also and say, “We’ve had a rash of smashed fingers in the line number two. Everybody in line two, please be terribly aware of where your hands are and whether you are getting into pinch points or not.”

So, microlearning can take something that’s been a little bit laborious and manual and turn it into something that’s elegant and facilitated tremendously by the technology.

Now, what about the checklist? Well, it’s not a piece of paper anymore. It’s electronic, and it’s available to the workers. They don’t have to go pick up a new copy of it somewhere, they don’t run out of them and have to go get more. It’s always available to them as they go. There could be a module also on each behavior. And one of the things that we’ve found, and we’ll talk about this with the observers, is that sometimes they’re not very good at giving feedback and really correcting behavior on the spot, so the module is there to do that.

One of the things that’s wonderful about microlearning is it’s really a facilitated technology way to accomplish on the job training, and we’ve known for years that on the job training has some real advantages over classroom training and other artificial ways of doing it, but it also had a tremendous weakness, and that is that it was often done by pairing a worker up with another worker, and if that other worker had bad habits, they tended to perpetuate them out there in the workplace. With microlearning, you don’t depend on the habits or the knowledge of another worker, you can look at the module that has the correct information and review it that way, so it’s a tremendous boon to keeping workers focused on the checklist things.

If we changed the checklist as we were talking about, maybe we had the top four or five on there and we’re going to add another one to it, you can do that immediately. You don’t have to reprint, you don’t have to re-distribute these checklists to the observers out there, so you have the ability to add items even to a single observation. So you could say, “Workers, we’ve had a rash of accidents on Wednesdays, this is Wednesday, please go to this area to do most of your observations and please look for these particular influences on those.”

You have the ability also to access past observation data. So if you’re walking into an area, you can see what has most often been observed there in the past.

So, how does this help the observer do observations? Well, first of all, the feedback that they need to give workers is already modularized. It’s not just you need to pay more attention to using the right tools and equipment, they can actually be deemed and said review the module on using the correct tools for the job, and this information which they were trained in to begin with, is available to them in a short digestible form as a refresher, and refreshing traditional training has been one of the challenges of it for years. How do we get people back into a classroom and retrain them over there? With microlearning, it’s all taken of.

The module on giving effective feedback can be available to the observers too. So if they say, “I don’t remember exactly how to give feedback,” they can go back and watch that. The data is automatically downloaded at the point of the observation. They don’t have to turn in a sheet to a data entry person who has to type it into the computer and then send reports back to the steering team, that data flow is automatic.

Immediate concerns can be communicated. So if an observer sees something, they’re not going to wait anymore until the end of the month to identify it and take action on it, they can take action almost immediately as this data comes back in, and the feedback can be reinforced with these modular reviews. So you don’t just say, “I’m concerned, why were you using the wrong tool for the job?” You can say that and then say, “By the way, you need to review the module on using the right tool for the job,” and the software can actually ding the employee after it sees that they have been observed using the wrong tool for the job and remind them again to review this module and make sure that they know what is the right tool for the job.

So, when the steering team gets this data back and they’re developing action plans, how can microlearning help with that? Well, first of all, the data analysis module is available for review by the steering team. They don’t have to pull out a manual, they don’t have to remind themselves of what to do, they can watch the module. And that takes up what? Three or four minutes at the beginning of their meeting to refresh themselves and make sure that they’re doing it exactly the right way. And action plan module can be available for review too. So how to analyze data, how to turn it into action plans, how to prioritize, all of that is available in bite sized review bits to the steering team. Observation data comes into them in real-time, not in a big lump at the end of the month.

Immediate actions needed can be communicated back immediately. Observers can be informed of any new action plans that are going on out there in the workplace and support for needed action plans can be requested also. So for instance, back to my original example, what if the steering team learns that the tools are located inconveniently for certain workstations. Very likely, the steering team doesn’t have the authority to go out there and just move the tools, they’re going to have to request assistance from engineering, from housekeeping, from a 5S team, I mean, or something like that, they can do that automatically through the software. Everyone can be notified immediately.

Also, management can be kept up to date. Most of our steering teams, we advise them to give management a basic report on their KPIs on a monthly basis, no need for that anymore. The software can do that automatically and in real-time. So, management doesn’t have to wait until the end of the month, then a week later get a report, and then a week later say, “Something’s wrong. We need to go correct it.” They’re going to know all of this in real-time, which is going to make them fabulously more effective.

The way we do behavior based safety at ProAct is very often, not always, but very often either completely or heavily done by workers on the floor of the shop, shop floor workers, and in that case, they require a tremendous amount of support from their leaders and from their supervisors. So one of the things that we do is we define what we call RRRs, roles, responsibilities, and results. So, we tell supervisors, and they can be different for supervisors than for leaders, “Here’s the role we want you to play. How should you be perceived in your support role? Should you be a father figure, should you be a guru, should you be a resource person?” And we define that as we think it would best fit the organization. Now specifically, what should you do? And we go through there and this is kind of a task description of what they do.

Now, if you are this and you do this, what should happen? What should be happening out there? If you’re fulfilling your roles and responsibilities, what results ought to be produced? Well, guess what? All of this can be put into a microlearning module and the leaders and supervisors can have this readily available to them and remind themselves all the time about what this is all about. Again, we usually do a two to three hour briefing for managers and supervisors to define what their support role is. What do they do? They walk out of that training, that traditional training and forget 75% of it in 24 to 48 hours. So they’re not out there actively supporting their BBS process the way we would like for them to, and microlearning facilitates this tremendously because it’s not only training, but it is reinforcement of training. It’s the ability to go back and review what you’ve learned in a modular basis, short, no big interruption to work, no need to leave the workplace and go into a classroom to do all of this, it’s the best form of on the job training.

So, these are kind of the basic steps, the basic pieces of the way ProAct does behavior-based safety process, and we do it a couple of different ways. One is what we call a fully supported implementation. That’s where a company calls us and says, “ProAct, bring one of your consultants in and do everything for us.” But more often what we do is a workshop for internal consultants at that site, or we do some public ones also, where we teach people to go back and do behavior-based safety.

And it’s amazing to me to just sit here and think how much we can facilitate either one of those approaches with this technology that’s called microlearning. I think it’s going to absolutely revolutionize the way most organizations do behavior-based safety, and I think it’s going to take them the first step into the reality of Industry 4.0, or this fourth industrial revolution. And there’s a lot of other technology that can follow this, but I think this technology can enable all those other technologies to a fabulous degree because it incorporates not only training but information distribution. So when new technologies come along, we can adapt them and adopt them very quickly and have people knowing how to use them more effectively than we’ve ever done in the past.

So, in my thinking right now, I think looking back at the poll that we took at the beginning of this, if you’re already doing behavior-based safety, you could take it into a reinforcement mode with microlearning. If you haven’t done it yet, or even if you have and you have the ability to do this, I think it could be totally put into microlearning modules and the whole process could be delivered via this new technology, and I think it would be fabulously more effective than the antiquated training techniques that we’ve been using for the last 50 years. So wherever you are in that journey, please consider what microlearning could do for you to get you to this next level and actually have a revolutionary, incredibly powerful behavior-based safety process.

So again, I’m going to turn it back over to Carol and let her tell you about microlearning and how it’s already been applied in certain industries to safety, and a little bit more of the detail about what it would look like and how it operates. So, Carol.


Carol Leaman:

Thanks very much, Terry. And so yes, I’m going to show everybody microlearning in action. What some real dashboards look like that organizations are leveraging to enhance, support, drive their BBS programs and how that could also look for you.

So, as Terry’s mentions, as I’ve mentioned previously, it is about chunking, learning down into small digestible pieces of information, which are often called key learning points. So as an example, if you’re looking to reduce ladder safety incidents, then what are the key things that people need to know such as three points of contact, or leaning the ladder at the correct angle, what are those critical learning points people need to understand, remember, and then turn into action? So really thinking that through is the first step in microlearning.

The other aspect of it in terms of a different approach is it is not about the fire hose, it is about continuous, ongoing delivery of information and if you do that, interestingly, in a question-based format, which we now know is the best way to get anybody to remember anything, in other words, have that individual reply and retrieve the information from their own brain. Don’t just tell them something, ask them to retrieve the information from the back of their brain. That is the best way to hone knowledge and get an individual to remember longterm. So it’s that continuous, ongoing reinforcement through question-based format, and then reinforced over time, part of that ongoing aspect of it.

It turns out also that if you question a person on their knowledge and you do that with some really specific spacing in between when you asked the same question one, two, and three times, then that also enhances the ability of the individual to remember the knowledge and therefore change behavior.

So, those are some key elements as to why microlearning is very different than traditional, what’s often referred to as one and done training.

This is just a visual depiction of how that continuous, what we call self-healing process takes place as it relates to BBS. There are key concepts that are trained on and then reinforced automatically person by person. There are observations then of that individual’s behavior that are captured on the platform through technology to identify, do the behaviors exhibited match the knowledge that that person actually has based on how they answer questions? And if there are gaps identified, then automatic, very personalized refresher training can take place to rapidly close those individual knowledge gaps. So you’re getting away from the one size fits all, one and done sort of approach, where unfortunately historically, we’ve all had to train to the lowest common denominator and hope that everybody retains everything. The reality is, everybody doesn’t.

So, measuring what they know, observing behavior, tying them together and then automatically pushing a refresher training in those short bites is a highly effective approach to having that continuous self-healing learning process to change behavior.

So, here are a couple of dashboards that show what I just mentioned. You have the questions, and many forms of questions you can ask. In this case, it’s a multiple answer, meaning more than one answer is correct. And interestingly at the bottom you see there, how confident are you? This is another well known and studied brain science technique to drive retention and behavior change in an individual. If you actually get them to self-assess how confident they are in their knowledge, it enhances the brain’s ability to retain. Where you also offer opportunities to support performance in that moment of need through areas like discovery zone where they can access short form content videos, it could be small documents in topic areas that are relevant to what they’re doing right in that moment, you also make it accessible and can enhance knowledge very, very rapidly.

So as they’re answering questions and acquiring knowledge and spitting out what they know and don’t know, it becomes very easy with technology capture to understand exactly what the individual knows in granular topic areas that are important to the business results and to the behavior. So you can see here that the first time through a series of questions in these topic areas, so eyes on path, tool and equipment use, ergonomics, proper lifting, the blue bar represents what level of knowledge the target audience had in each of those key areas the first time they answered questions in that area. The yellow or orange bar is their current knowledge level. So typically, that’s the third or fourth time they answered a question and you see the difference in those as what we call the knowledge lift in those topic areas that ends up being sustained long term because of the way microlearning works.

So you can measure right across your population, what people know and don’t know very specifically down to the level of the individual, so not just teams, but to the level of the individual, and then that information is automatically paired with behavior observation. So where do you capture what people are actually doing on the job so those supervisors or coworkers who are looking at the actual ladder being put up, or the forklift being driven, or a box being lifted, you can capture those behaviors automatically, and they get tied back to the levels of knowledge demonstrated by the individual. And that is part of this automatic, self-healing, pushing out the adaptive learning that each individual needs to have to maximize performance through behavior.

And then you get a knowledge profile of every single individual, so you know specifically where they are in terms of that learning journey and what those behaviors are that are having the biggest impact on whatever it is that you’re looking to achieve, whether it’s reduction of safety incidents or some other thing that ties often to a business outcome that you’re looking to achieve.

And so you can identify key coaching opportunities are people, for whatever reason, not understanding a particular new procedure that’s been introduced. Are they people that are just not participating in training that for one reason or another, don’t want to learn more? You can identify those individuals and then coach them into actually accessing the training. And where people need coaching, you can identify specifically what areas, what topic areas, who, is it a particular location? We see that oftentimes where issues around behavior observations that result in less than ideal financial or business outcomes sometimes are location based, and you can really dig into and drill down into the data to understand where you need to focus and put the most attention so that you can correct whatever needs correcting.

So, those behaviors that get captured helps managers, as I just said, identify employees that need improvement, identify those areas that need to be worked on, and it’s all captured automatically in dashboards that instantly elevate and expose where those areas that need attention are. And you can identify knowledge, behavior gaps and address them.

So now I’m going to turn to a just a few stories in terms of actual organizations who are employing these techniques, this technology, in order to improve what’s going on within their businesses. So the first one is Walmart Logistics, and they launched this program in 2012, so it’s well embedded in their culture, and really their culture of safety, Walmart has just, as many of you would know, a superlative focus on safety for their employees. And in their case, over 90,000 associates between 140 and 150 distribution centers use microlearning almost every single day on a voluntary basis to have key topics delivered to them, and they had their behaviors observed and ingested and tied to the knowledge of the population so that they can automatically remediate those areas where their audience or their target learners need to improve most.

And the result for them has just been a tremendous reduction in recordable incidents. And that 54% was the pilot in the first six months. They have sustained across the years intervening between 2012 and now, about a 30% reduction in OSHA reportables and consistent knowledge list.

So, what they’ve done in terms of managing that in the workflow is put accessibility right next to where an employee needs to sit a few minutes every shift. So they make it very easily accessible in the workflow of the individual during the day so that it isn’t something that they need to really think about or do outside the workflow. And that’s key to driving voluntary participation, which we know drives dramatic knowledge growth, retention, and then behavior change.

So, here’s one of the forms that Walmart would use in order to … a sample of a form, and they are recording a million real world behavior observations every single month and pairing that with the knowledge automatically through technology and getting that tremendous result.

The second example is Merck. So I’m sure all of you recognize this very successful global pharmaceutical company, and they launched microlearning really to drive that proactive culture of safety and they have 52 global manufacturing sites. So again, large organization, wide number of employees that really needed to have the culture of safety continuously embedded in what they were doing. And as you see there, there’s greater than 80% voluntary participation, great knowledge growth across all of their topics, a significant decrease in their recordable incident rates and lost time injury rates. So just again, a tremendous outcome across the thousands of employees in those 52 facilities.

And then finally, At Home. So a little bit of a different organization, At Home is a specialty retailer in the US. A great brand, if you haven’t visited any of their stores, and are they implemented microlearning a few years ago across their 3000 associates. And really, it was to drive that cultural shift because they rebranded, they redid all of their stores, and they were really trying to uplift culturally, the way that their employees serve their customers and behaved in the workplace to drive down safety incidents. And you can see here, 94% voluntary participation, huge reduction in onboarding time, a significant drop in safety incidents, and a huge number of those associates completing compliance training in two weeks, 70% in two weeks, which they had had a significant issue with when it came to compliance, demonstrated compliance with safety and other topics.

So again, microlearning is a very approachable way, a very digestible way to drive dramatic knowledge retention and behavior change to really support your behavioral based safety programs.

And so with that, I will say that the Axonify learning model is based on all of the principles that I just went through, the brain science, that repetition, the question based format, confidence based learning, adapting to each individual to sustain knowledge long term, and to make it appealing and fun wrapped in a whole series of game mechanics that make the employee feel quite rewarded, they compete, they feel energized when they’re training, and it elevates the brain’s ability to actually remember information.

So if you want to learn more, you are more than welcome to download the microlearning and safety ebook. It’s free. You see the URL there, and Terry and I would both be happy to answer any questions that you have.



Thank you, Carol and Terry, that was an outstanding presentation. Many attendees have already submitted questions, so we’re going to jump right in. While our presenters are answering your questions, please take a moment to complete the feedback form on the lower left toolbar.

All right. Question number one. How does microlearning ensure safety training meets OSHA compliance requirements?


Carol Leaman:

So, … and Terry, feel free to jump in.


Terry L. Mathis:



Carol Leaman: 

Basically, the questions that are used for microlearning training are based on oftentimes, OSHA regulations. So what you’re asking the employee to know and remember and do, those questions are created out of what the individual or what the group knows about what OSHA requires. So it’s really just forming your questions with a knowledge of what OSHA requires, that’s really how it’s done.


Terry L. Mathis: 

To me also, you have two different parts of safety. One is what I call basic safety and the other is what I call safety excellence. Basic safety is OSHA compliance to a large degree, and compliance with your own internally generated rules and procedures. And you can make microlearning do that marvelously. But what I was talking about more specifically today is how do you go above and beyond that? Very few of the behaviors that we address in behavior-based safety process are covered by OSHA regulations or by company rules or regulations. They are discretionary behaviors that workers can do but don’t really have to do. So, what’s interesting about microlearning is that it addresses both of those marvelously and can straddle that, which very few other trainings were able to do.



Okay. The next question. Do you see challenges when implementing BBS steering committee when there is a union involved?


Terry L. Mathis:

Well, certainly. A union site has one more layer of complexity than a nonunion site. And unfortunately, some of the academics who tried to do behavior-based safety were relatively uninformed of the reality of represented workforces and kind of stumbled around them and made some mistakes that caused some problems for everybody. But 60% of all the sites, we’ve done over 1600 sites at ProAct safety over the last 25 years, sixty-something percent of them are union sites. So yes, you have to take into consideration that extra complexity, but it’s not an undoable thing, it’s just, you just have to know the reality of what it is and address it.


Carol Leaman:

And I would agree with that. Many of our customers have union environments and at the end of the day, everybody wants everybody to be safe, and if you can do it in a way that’s easy and fun and that the employees want to do voluntarily, that really helps get over those hurdles.


Terry L. Mathis: 

Sure. Unions were formed largely for safety, so they’re not anti safety, they just might not understand how the particular thing that you’re doing is going to enhance that. And generally, once they buy into that, they are fabulous supporters of these kinds of methods.



Okay. Next question. How do you overcome workers’ hesitation over being watched by the observer while completing their task?


Carol Leaman: 

I can speak from the point of view of the way I know our client organizations deal with that. Oftentimes, the observations are not obvious. So an individual may be doing something and being observed, but the individual observing them is not necessarily standing right beside them. And so oftentimes, people are engrossed in what they’re doing and don’t in fact notice that somebody is standing and watching. But if it’s part of the culture as well, and observations have been going on for years, if it’s just part of the culture, it tends not to be an issue in our experience. I don’t know about you, Terry.


Terry L. Mathis: 

Well, every organization is a little bit different, so the way we approach them is different in a lot of those organizations. But generally, anyone who is reluctant to be observed doesn’t really understand what the purpose of the observations are. So the better you can do at briefing the workforce about exactly what this is and how it’s going to work, the less resistance you have on the back end. And we generally teach the observers also that if you do have that kind of resistance, don’t push it, don’t insist that people be observed but answer their questions and find out why they object or why they are reluctant to be observed.

It’s very important in a behavior-based safety process that you carefully separate discipline from peer observations. We could spend a whole webinar on that particular issue, but that is a very intelligent question to ask about a behavioral approach because that’s one of the major things that happens is that workers are hesitant to be observed.



Okay. How can this enhance a mature process that seems to be working well but works on continuous improvement?


Terry L. Mathis: 

If I can, Carol-


Carol Leaman: 



Terry L. Mathis:    … I mean, it’s like any technology. You were doing it manually and now you can do it automatically. I used to type on a typewriter and now I write on a computer. It’s enhanced tremendously what I can do, and I see microlearning as exactly that. You’re going to do a lot of the same things you’ve already done, you’re just going to fabulously facilitate it with this technology.

I was thinking of Carol’s statement about Walmart. I did this manually at ALCOA. ALCOA has 540 major sites and over half a million employees around the world, and we got it done, but do you know how much easier it would have been to do it with microlearning technology than it was the way we did it back two decades ago? It was just tremendous. By the way, ALCOA is almost 100% union also, and there was a lot of resistance to doing behavior based safety, which we were able to overcome through education. But think how much easier that education would have been with the microlearning modules than it was with going to 540 locations all around the world and face to face explaining to people.



How do you provide time for employees to watch the microlearning during the work day especially in a 24/7 work schedule?


Carol Leaman: 

So, I can speak from the Axonify perspective because Axonify is voluntary, and this is across our entire base of clients, and takes only three to five minutes a day. The employees are usually left to their own devices to decide when it fits into that workflow. And so as long as it’s made accessible, when the employee has a little break, three to five minutes, they then can access to technology. So we find globally, employees accessing the platform all times of day, anytime of day, and really, it’s sometimes when you need a quick little mental break or you’re on your way in, it could be in a break room, if you’re taking a break. Really, most of the companies that use microlearning allow their employees to access it when they have three to five minutes.


Terry L. Mathis:

You have more practical knowledge in this than I do, Carol, with your experience with your clients so far, but I have several clients that pass around informational cards and ask the workers to read it during the course of the day and sign the back of it and let them know that they have taken in this information, and a lot of them give little breaks from time to time and say, “Okay, everybody read your information card.” It would be so easy to replace manual systems like that with microlearning modules, would just facilitate that tremendously. And again, as Carol pointed out, these are so short that they’re generally not, unless you’ve got somebody that’s totally hands on, a machine operator or something like that, for a period of time, a lot of organizations could give them an extra three minutes on their break and ask them to look at one of the modules while they’re on a break.

I don’t think there’s one size fits all formula for how to do it, but it’s so little time that I think there are a number of ways that organizations are going to figure out that this is a very good investment versus taking somebody off the job for a half day or two hours or something like that to put them in a classroom.



Okay. Well, it looks like we’ve run out of time. I’d like to thank our presenters, Terry and Carol, and our sponsor, Axonify.

As reminder, if you registered as a group, please add the names and emails of all in attendance on the exit survey. On behalf of EHS Today, have a productive remainder of the day.