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Which type of training is right for you – online or classroom based?

Training in food safety and hygiene is essential for any company handling or processing food for human consumption, no matter what their size. Only a few years ago all training of this type was classroom-based, with several members of staff undergoing training at the same time, often for a whole day. Dependent on the length and intensity of the course, this could prove challenging to Production and Catering Managers’ schedules, and could lead to whole establishments shutting down for the day to accommodate training, or extra staff being brought in to cover. Nowadays, of course, with more people than ever having access to the internet, there is also the option to train online. So which is better?

Let’s take for example, Level 2 Food Safety. This course offers basic training to ensure all food handlers understand their role in food safety. It includes: an introduction to food safety and hygiene; the impact of food borne illnesses; food law; an understanding of food safety hazards and contamination; food preservation, storage and temperature control; personal hygiene; hygienic premises and equipment; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). This course can be taken either online or in a classroom environment.

Essentially the content of an online and traditional course will generally be the same, as long as you choose a reputable provider. It really depends on your own personal circumstances as to which is the most suitable option for you. The first consideration might well be budget. Online courses are considerably less expensive than their face-to-face counterparts, not only in terms of the cost of the tutor, but also when you consider the cost of travel and accommodation.  It also means, of course, that you can live anywhere in the world and take a food safety training through the company of your choice, irrespective of location.

The other reason why online courses are particularly popular is the degree of flexibility that they offer. For instance you can start an online course on any day of the year and at any time of the day or night. This flexibility is ideal for those who want to study in their own time or for very busy catering establishments where finding a full day or two to train during a hectic schedule may prove difficult, but finding 30 minutes at a time might prove more feasible. This approach also allows several members of staff to train for the qualification simultaneously without severe disruption to daily routines.

Another case in favour of e-learning is that online courses tend to be modular in structure, meaning that the training can be undertaken in stages. Each module can be undertaken independently and the trainee can return at a later date to complete the next stage. Previous modules can be accessed and reviewed at any point. In addition, a full training record is logged for each module completed, which is great for auditing purposes and the HR department’s files.

Candidates often cite the ability to work at their own pace as a distinct advantage of learning online. Typically Level 2 Food Safety can be completed in 2-3 hours as opposed to a full day in the classroom. Likewise Level 3 Food Safety, aimed at supervisors, is a 3 day course, yet can be undertaken in approximately 9 hours online. Going online means that you are not beholden to the speed of the tutor or the pace of other candidates who might be progressing more quickly or slowly than you might like.

So, in principle, online courses are a suitable alternative. But let’s examine why some people might still prefer the more traditional route. I have said that the course content is essentially the same, but the major difference is that online courses tend to be more generic. If you are in a classroom situation, you have the benefit of being able to ask questions that are specific to your own workplace or role. Indeed, we deliberately tailor courses to suit the delegates who have enrolled and offer a number of examples and typical scenarios from their industries.

Trainees also find the interactive element of classroom-based courses extremely helpful, particularly with areas such as HACCP. They interact with delegates from other companies, share examples and experiences and generally gain a better understanding of the food industry as a whole.  Trainees working in catering will typically meet dairy processors, cider producers, butchers, people in packaging, representatives from supermarket chains and fruit producers to name but a few, as well as other caterers and will learn from other delegates. Since they are not in their regular work environment, they find it easier to concentrate – and mobile phones will be switched off for the duration!

The added bonus is that directly following training they are able to sit the examination to receive a certificate from an accredited training provider. This option is not available for every online course, although those who have undertaken online training can visit an accredited training centre and take the exam.

There are, of course, certain types of food training that simply cannot be undertaken over the internet. Here, I am referring to courses where there is a large practical element. For example our specialist ‘Creating Savoury Flavours’ course is mainly lab-based, so therefore unsuitable for distance learning. Likewise, if you are seeking a bespoke course, specific to your company’s operational processes, then the traditional route is recommended.

Whatever your chosen course, it is worth remembering that food safety training is just like any other industry in that you need to be sure that what you’re purchasing meets your needs. Unfortunately any ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ can set themselves up as a ‘consultancy’ and offer courses online, so how can you be sure that the training you buy has credibility and is of a sufficient quality?

The answer to this is to do your research. Does the online company also offer offline courses? Has the course content been assessed by the RSPH, REHIS or CIEH? Has the company won any recognisable awards? Are they accredited by an industry-wide body or training organisation such as CIty and Guilds? If you employ staff for whom English is not their first language, does the online course cater for this? i.e. is a translation or voiceover available in the required language?

You also need to be sure that the course content that you follow is current. Standards and regulations are constantly changing and a good training provider will address and regularly update both their online and face-to-face courses in line with this. One way of getting the best out of your training is to opt for what is termed ‘blended training’. This is a combination of e-learning and face-to-face. It is also a sound method for the training provider to ensure that all delegates have a similar level of understanding prior to commencing on a face-to-face course. A good example of this is sending delegates for Level 4 Food Safety training the online version of Level 3 as a pre-course induction or refresher.

So, in essence, there are pros and cons to both types of learning. At the end of the day it is your decision as to what works best for you and your company. The main thing is that the training that you or your staff undertakes meets industry requirements and the lessons learned become an integral part of your day-to-day operations.

Verner Wheelock Associates can provide any combination of the above delivery methods. Using online training for some of your training claerly saves time and money so why not give it a go? Contact Claire Lennon on 01756 700802 or email claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk.

Visit our website at www.vwa.vo.uk for more information on all our courses.