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What to look for when reviewing online UST training courses

March 2, 2021

Normally I write posts about what our customers — UST operators — should consider when shopping for the best online training experience. But this time I thought I’d help UST government agencies know what to look for when evaluating or auditing Class A/B and C UST training options.

Back in 2003, when I started doing live classroom training in Oregon, it quickly became apparent that my course, while dutifully explaining the UST rules in painstaking PowerPoint detail, wasn’t landing well with the audience. Questions I kept getting:

  • What does “L4 fuel alarm” mean?
  • How can I tell what method of leak detection I’m using?
  • How can I get ready for a compliance inspection?
  • What do I do with oily spill bucket water?
  • Exactly what records must I keep?

With operators asking for more practical information, I ended up completely rewriting my course to make it more of a “where the rubber meets the road” kind of experience. I blended advice, best management practices and insider tips I’d gathered over the years along with standard rules and regulations which resulted in changing the goal of the training: from simply explaining UST rules, to giving UST operators the tools they needed to put their knowledge into practice. The goal became changing operator behavior enough to avoid leaks, spills, ignored alarms and hefty fines, and the revised template became our national standard once we started offering training in other states.

So, State and Territory UST regulators, want better training programs that translate into meaningful improvements in UST compliance? Consider the following.

[Side note for skeptics: If you are a regulator who does not believe training helps (I’ve met more than a few in my day), then please consider that perhaps how we train and what the training covers may not be adequate to alter the behavior that causes the problems in the first place.]

Is the content state-specific?

The most common complaint I hear from state regulators is that the training material submitted for review was federally-based, generic, and not state-specific enough. Make sure all content covers specific state deadlines, rules about service providers, and anything else not covered in Federal UST rules. And do not allow reciprocity.

Are there course reviews to evaluate?

If you’re offering online courses and want to always make your courses better, then you should be gathering feedback about what did and didn’t work for the user. Ask to see all raw user feedback and survey results (the good, and bad ones as well) to see if the user thought the training was helpful and effective.

Who is the content directed at?

Trainers must know their audience. Does the course make sense to operators as well as regulators? Content should help explain the UST rules in a practical way, rather than just list citations, so that operators understand the steps to comply. Make sure the content is not just a cut and paste of UST rules, but also explains them in simple, conversational language to get the point across. Also check to make sure the tone of the language is not overly bureaucratic so a typical user can easily make sense of it.

Do operators know what’s under the lids?

The training rules usually don’t require that operators be shown a detailed breakdown of a UST system: what the parts are, how they work, how they all work together, and what problems to look for. Basically, how a UST system works. Ask that courses offer a graphical description of all the major parts and pieces of a UST system and how they work together.

Does it offer practical advice?

The Federal and nearly all State/Territory UST rules only require explaining what the rules are (knowledge) but don’t require trainers to tell operators how to comply (practice). Look for training content that helps UST operators know how to do things like performing 30-day walkthrough inspections, how to assign compliance duties, how to best keep records, etc.

How visual is the content?

Studies show that 65% of the population are visual learners. And yet lots of UST training content is dense with words and scant on visuals.  Any “words only” or “mostly words” training content for UST operators can miss up to two-thirds of the intended audience. Make sure trainers provide relevant and meaningful graphics, images and/or videos to help learners improve knowledge retention.

Does it inspire?

The goal of training is ultimately less about reciting regulations, and more about helping change a negative behavior (for example, ignoring alarms) to a positive one (responding to alarms.) Effective training must identify roles and responsibilities, likely impacts, and specific consequences for non-compliance. Ask: does the training inspire people to understand the risk, manage the risk, and reduce the risk?

In summary, not all training is created equal and the list of topics required by most States and Territories can be somewhat limited in focus. As a government official, I know you may or may not have the regulatory authority to require every vendor to meet some or all of these ideas. But if you know what does and does not work, and if certain training content does not yield better compliance, then consider ways to ask more from all of us training vendors.

What do you want to see in an online UST course? Send us your thoughts at [email protected]

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