The Follies of Refinery CBT Training | RefinerLink

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The Follies of Refinery CBT Training

By Ralph Laurel

Jul 17, 2018

How to improve the quality of refinery computer based training.


If your refinery’s technology has joined the rest of the society, you have some type of computer based training (CBT) to facilitate employee training. No doubt that it is convenient and efficient.


The question is whether it is effective?


If you’ve been in the oil refining business for at least as long as I have, you will recall the days of falling asleep in large refinery conference rooms with no windows. The good ole days where safety training was conducted by a safety specialist that was outnumbered 50 to 1.


I remember the feeling of entering a muggy room filled with 50 grumpy men at the butt crack of dawn. Less pleasant than the crusty class attendees was the multiple choice test at the end of the 8 hour classroom day. Failing the test meant that I had to sit through another 2 hours of refresher training!


Fast forward a couple of decades, and today we now have refinery CBTs for every type of training. From safe work practices, to environmental awareness, to even corporate compliance. To be honest, I cannot remember how many years it has been since I’ve been in an instructor led training class!


So what is my issue with CBTs? It’s the fact that most CBTs are created so that you can pass without even paying attention to what you are being trained on.


You can take a pre-session test. You can take a practice test. You can even take the final exam multiple times if you fail.


Majority of the CBT modules are set up so that you can click through the lessons without reading or listening to the course content. Just look for the big forward arrow and click as fast as you can. This has now become a game of seeing how fast I can really complete 30 hours of CBT training.      

Even worse is the fact that many traditional hands-on training, is being replaced by computer training. While a picture is worth a thousand words, human interaction can sometimes be irreplaceable.

Do we honestly think that employees

are learning in this environment?



What I advocate is not to abandon computer based training. There is certainly a place for it in our world today. In fact, I believe that majority of refinery refresher training can be managed through CBT modules.


However, we need to be wise about how we manage and design CBTs. Don’t make it a pencil whipping exercise.


Employees see right through it and companies lose respect for the intent. I’ve even heard managers talk about how they just click through as fast as possible. That is simply a disgrace.


So here are some suggestions that I have for improving the effectiveness of refinery CBT modules:


Time delay availability of the forward arrow for every page in the module


Some CBTs have this feature, but not all. What I do know is that this really works. Multi-tasking is difficult when you have to wait for the forward arrow to appear, so you end up just paying attention to the CBT.


Take away the pre-tests


By having pre-tests, you basically give away the answers to the final test. There are no consequences to failing a pre-test, and most final tests use the same questions as the pre-test.


Don’t use the same questions in the practice test in the final exam


You can test the same concept between the practice test and the final exam, but just do not use the same exact questions and answers. Employees go into auto-pilot mode and can choose the correct answer without even reading the question when modules use the same question/answer set-up. Change the question and answer slightly in the final exam to maintain user attention.


Mix the user response type


100% multiple choice is just not an effective testing practice. Have users manually type in some responses, or employ drag and drop features.  Mixing up the response type stimulates the brain and improves user experience.


Reduce the number of allowed test failures


Many CBT training sessions give the employee up to 3 attempts to pass a module. Seriously?!? Reduce the allocation to 2 or 1 and you’ll guarantee more attentive sessions.



While the tips above improve the effectiveness of computer based training where CBTs are appropriate, I will echo the message that you cannot use CBTs to replace every single training program.


There are some training curriculums that require instructor led training. Each company will have to determine where that balance lies and invest in resources appropriately. If you cannot afford to train your employees correctly, then you do not deserve to be in this complex business.


Training is a very critical aspect of the oil refining business. Whether it is onboarding employees for the first time, providing refresher training, or setting expectations for a contractor labor force, the quality of training that a refinery provides is a reflection of its safety culture.


While it’s easy to fall into the efficiency trap of providing CBTs, world class refiners figure out a way to balance efficiency with effectiveness.

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  • Nat :   You made some valid points around CBT quality and efficacy. Our issues revolve around getting 100% completion rates against compliance audits. This is difficult in classroom sessions given shift work schedules and employees with 6+ weeks of vacation. It should also be noted that much of the regulatory training is repetitive and often required annually. In a lot of cases, we have remanded the EHS training to CBT in order to focus classroom or one-on-one efforts to our PSM training. These must be based on roles and responsibilities in regard to operating procedures and do not fit CBT delivery well.

    May 11, 2015

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