Two-Way Learning

Comparing two groups' retention of training material about fire extinguisher use and safety showed response technology was beneficial.

Julie LaRose of Soteria Safety, LLC knows the importance of retention in safety training. Topics presented in training classes often apply to life-and-death situations, making understanding confined space issues more than just an OSHA requirement. As an occupational safety and health consultant for some 17 years, LaRose recognizes her responsibility in the classes she teaches. In order to ensure that learning objectives are met and attendees are applying material in the field, she implemented interactive audience response technology.

Audience response technology was developed in the 1960s but had limited implementation due to complicated and expensive equipment. The idea of gaining immediate feedback from audience members, however, propelled the technology into the educational arena. In the 1980s, higher education classrooms tested the idea with rudimentary graphing calculators that were hardwired into early Macintosh computers. While its education value was seen, the technology needed further development for larger applications.

In 1988, the IBM Corporate Education Center required all new managers to attend a one-week course at headquarters (Horowitz, 1988). In order to test the validity of response systems at the time, the center employed the technology in one of the training classes. Results were compared to similar classes. In the response system classroom, productivity increased 20-30 percent, test scores went up by 27 percent, and participants voted in favor of the response system, giving it a positive vote of 6.6 out of 7 possible points. The study championed the use of response systems, providing additional evidence of its value in training environments.

Response technology evolved greatly during the 1990s and 2000s, with major improvements in both cost and ease of use. The systems became smaller, wireless, and functioned hand-in-hand with computers. Polling software is often integrated directly with familiar presentation program PowerPoint or runs the polling application with a simple floating toolbar over any PC or Mac program. The accompanying keypads are now the size of a credit card, transmitting responses in real time to USB receivers.

Higher education institutions were once again quick to embrace the newly designed systems for lecture, testing, and tracking purposes. In one of the largest studies to date, professors at the University of Wisconsin studied the effects of response keypads in the hands of nearly 3,500 students (Joosten & Kaleta, 2007). The statistics produced from follow-up surveys confirmed what professors had personally experienced: Results indicated a majority of faculty agreed the use of clickers helped improve student engagement (94 percent), participation (87 percent), and interaction (68 percent). A majority of students agreed that the use of clickers helped them feel more engaged (69 percent), increased participation (70 percent), and allowed them to pay closer attention (67 percent). Together, a majority of both faculty (74 percent) and students (53 percent) agreed the clickers improved student learning.

Going beyond higher education, response technology has also noted great success in professional learning environments. In 2004, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Chicago experimented with response technology in its monthly lecture series for residency program participants (Schackow, Chavez, Loya, & Friedman, 2004). Dividing the participants into several groups, one of the classes implemented response technology, while a different class maintained a traditional lecture format. Results from the post test of the response group yielded a 35 percent increase in post-test scores and a 19 percent increase in retention of material one month after initial instruction. Ultimately, researchers concluded that response technology had improved post-lecture quiz performance in residents, both initially and up to one month after lecture administration. In addition, researchers found that response technology had reliably delivered essential learning points in such a way that good post-lecture factual retention rates were achieved.

'The Audience is Definitely More Responsive'
A more recent study conducted in 2009 once again affirmed that corporate learning environments would receive similar benefits to the inclusion of response technology in traditional education settings (Heiss, 2009). Participants in an OSHA training program at Ohio-based print company Franklin Imaging were divided into two groups. One group incorporated response technology, and one group received lecture-based instruction.

Both groups were presented identical material regarding fire extinguisher use and safety and were asked identical questions, either verbally or through the response technology. Four out of the six questions that were asked verbally during the lecture class were answered by the same person, whereas everyone was able to respond individually using the response system. At the conclusion of the training, results from the post test indicated the response technology was beneficial. Post-test scores were 11 percent higher, more perfect scores were obtained, and a higher range of scores was achieved versus the lecture group.

Such data made it clear to Julie LaRose that response technology could be a major benefit in similar training scenarios. LaRose was first introduced to audience response after reading an article regarding its use for game shows at corporate events. She immediately thought of the effects the technology would have during her safety classes. After discovering its extensive use in higher education, LaRose realized she had an opportunity to improve learning outcomes. And after three years of using such systems, she has discovered how to strategically enhance training sessions with effective interactive questions.

"Basically, my training seminars before the technology were primarily one way, and I wouldn't have a lot of feedback as to whether or not my audience was getting it," she said. "Now, I can do formative assessments during my presentation. If they are not getting it, I can give examples and we can talk about it. I do smaller group discussions, and I focus on higher-level analytical learning skills, as opposed to just presenting information that they're expected to memorize."

LaRose integrates response technology into a variety of her training seminars but uses it for every topic during her OSHA 10-hour program. Subjects include fall protection, industrial hygiene, confined space, lockout/tagout, industrial ventilation, and many more. She appreciates the use of audience response for its ability to change room dynamics and keep interest levels peaked, even in shy attendees. LaRose regularly encourages discussion before answers are submitted and uses team competition to incorporate fun.

"The audience is definitely more responsive. You can feel the difference in attention levels when you're doing interactive classes versus non-interactive classes. People are plugged in much more when they know they have to respond," she said. "I've noticed that generally during training that is non-interactive, it's the same people responding. Introverts have valuable feedback and insight, and the way to get it is getting everyone's response -- not just the people that like the spotlight."

According to LaRose, technical subjects are the most important to test for students' comprehension during the session. Instead of presenting the hazards of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, audiences now can rank the toxicity of carbon monoxide versus carbon dioxide, delving deeper into the subject matter to verify understanding. LaRose often uses the detailed reporting provided by the system to confirm that learning objectives are met and subject material is effective.

"The greatest advantage of using interactive training is moving away from traditional lecture style for higher analytical skills," she said. "It's not just presenting information where they take away a certain amount, but really requiring them to think through specific examples, debate, and respond."

1. Heiss, B. (2009). The Effectiveness of Implementing Classroom Response Systems in the Corporate Environment. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from
2. Horowitz, H. (1988). Student response systems: Interactivity in a classroom environment. Retrieved Jan. 22, 2009, from
3. Joosten, T., & Kaleta, R. (2007). Student Response Systems: A University of Wisconsin System Study of Clickers. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, Research Bulletin, 2007(10), 1-12.
4. Schackow, T., Chavez, M., Loya, L., & Friedman, M. (2004). Audience Response System: Effect on Learning in Family Medicine Residents. Family Medicine, 36(7), 496-504.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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