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Effective Adult Learning Design is Essential to Fight Complacency

Employee bored completing training online

Complacency is something that everyone experiences as they get comfortable doing certain tasks. And it’s not only something that occurs in the workplace—experienced drivers think less and less about how dangerous it is to operate a vehicle, yardwork becomes so routine that the possibility of being hurt is not a conscious thought, even cooking seems harmless when you do it regularly. When it comes to safety, complacency elevates risk to the highest level.

It’s not that the employees don’t know the risks of being complacent—they do—but the thing with complacency is that it lulls people into a false sense of security, making them believe that they’re not actually in danger or leading them to not think about risk at all. Seeing people not following a procedure after they learned it in a class is not only frustrating for safety pros, it can be misleading. Complacency can easily be mistaken for deliberate noncompliance, a lapse in memory or lack of engagement. And rightfully so, since all those are also entangled with and influenced by complacency—before, during and after training. 

Typical safety training is notorious for being dry, unengaging and quickly forgotten. If you’re only delivering safety training to check the compliance box, then the same old training will allow you to do that. But if you’re looking to make a difference with your safety training, check out these tips to ensure you succeed.

Training suited to your learners

Blended learning has traditionally been thought of as a combination of online and in-person (classroom) training. But given the recent surge in online communication tools, it may be time to think about how training can engage the learner’s senses. This is where multimodal learning comes into play. To put it simply, multimodal learning suggests that retention and understanding are higher during learning when the senses—visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic—are engaged. But if you want to have a long-term impact on complacency, you’ll also need to first get their attention and then push the boundaries of these common training techniques by adding human factors, emotion, social and applied learning inside and outside of the classroom at multiple touchpoints. 


Whether you’re a visual learner or not, everyone appreciates a good visual, especially when it comes to training. And it doesn’t have to strictly be a chart, diagram, or graph (although they are great in some instances). A well-placed illustration, cartoon, or infographic can help audiences more effectively understand the subject. You could also use a video to help better demonstrate the info (the animation can also help highlight stand-out information). Visual learning also applies to the text color, making sure important points are labeled and stand out. All of these visual cues can make a difference for visual learners; when it’s not just words going in and out, they’ll be more engaged and less likely to be lulled into complacency. In your facility, a poster can reiterate a safety message that has already been delivered to jog an employee’s memory recall—and it’s a great way to get someone out of a complacent state. 


Auditory learners have better retention through listening than reading. These are the type of people who prefer an audiobook over a paperback. There are many facets to auditory learning—this is not only the media selected for your presentation (music, video, podcast) but also applies to something as simple as your tone of voice. For the same reason that it’s hard to determine tone through text, it’s also hard to get meaning from words delivered in a monotone. Key messages need to be projected and pronounced in different tones. Another way to engage auditory learners is to ask them to repeat the key messages in their own words. Recorded lectures or webinars are great for auditory learners because they can listen to them more than once. Toolbox talks are another notable way to reach auditory learners and keep your safety message front and center to avoid complacency.


Read+write learners will often fall back to this method because it’s what they’re most familiar with. But with familiarity comes complacency. Text-based courses are often delivered as a PDF or eBook for the digital learner, or a workbook/textbook is distributed in the classroom to read the information and take notes on it. Quizzes or assignments that test the learner’s knowledge (like true/false or multiple choice) are a type of read+write learning that can make the learner focus more on the safety message.


Kinesthetic learning is for those who learn by doing. Instead of listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration, kinesthetic learners will learn better if they are the ones delivering the presentation. It combines the different multimodal learning methods to ensure they truly understand the subject. Relevant supervisor-employee and peer-to-peer interactions deliver information in a way that speaks to kinesthetic learners, and if they’re done often enough it can establish safety-related habits that will keep complacency low and awareness high.

By combining these modes to create a diverse learning style you have multiple opportunities to reach all learning types. Multimodal learning is better for efficacy—it not only engages each learner but ensures the information will be retained. It also finds ways to have less classroom time and more on-the-job practice, which can be especially effective in certain workplaces. Learning doesn’t stop with these methods. Interleaving topics and activities both in the class and outside will keep their attention and also help them retain the information. Practice between class and during off-hours will help with good habit creation and give the learning context.

When it comes to safety training, in the battle against complacency, you need to make sure you’re properly reaching each person with enough frequency and variety to ensure it sticks.

On-demand webinar

Using a Human Factors Framework for Safety and Operational Excellence

It can be hard to see the connection between safety, productivity, human factors and organizational systems. This webinar will demonstrate how a human factors framework can impact all areas of an organization, linking individual worker safety and organizational systems and provide an outline that allows leadership to manage safety-focused change.

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