Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on February 8, 2021.

Training Up

How the pandemic helped fuel the development and popularity of NFPA's ambitious online learning plan 

Standards development isn't the only key NFPA activity that has had to adapt to the restrictions of the pandemic—so has the closely related effort around education and training.

Bartholomew Jae, the director of education and development at NFPA, is quick to point out that online learning didn’t begin with the arrival of the pandemic. But the extended quarantine has helped jumpstart its rapid adoption and improvement. Years from now, when we look back at the myriad ways COVID changed our lives, the emergence of online education could end up high on the list.


“Everything in online learning is being accelerated because of this pandemic, including the student’s expectations,” said Jae, who’s led NFPA’s training efforts for three years. “People are much more used to the online learning format—I don't think students are going to tolerate what people in the business called ‘page turners’ for e-learning, where you just read a page, click ‘next’, and answer some multiple-choice questions. People now expect a lot more.”

Those expectations are reflected in NFPA’s own ambitious effort to grow and evolve its online training offerings. In recent years, the organization has invested in ramping up its online library, adding new courses and topics, and building content that is more interactive. That includes courses with more multimedia, engaging case studies, interactive challenges, and videos of “experts sharing their war stories, just like an instructor might in a classroom,” Jae said.

The curriculum itself has also evolved. Traditionally, most NFPA courses have focused on a particular code or standard rather than on how students might use the code or standard in their specific jobs, Jae said. Efforts have been made to provide more context and to tailor courses so that they “cater specifically to the student’s profession, their experience, and the problems they want to solve,” he said.

With millions of people around the world suddenly homebound, and NFPA’s traditional in-person training courses cancelled indefinitely, the pandemic has provided an unexpected opportunity to test the progress of NFPA’s online learning programs. Through November 2020, Jae said, sales of NFPA online learning courses were up nearly 300 percent from 2019.

NFPA's online training courses have become more interactive and engaging, with multimedia and other elements. NFPA

“We’ve received a lot of recent feedback from people saying things like, ‘This is like nothing I've ever taken before from NFPA,’” Jae said. “That feels good, because we have been working hard to shift our courses to what learners now expect when they take online training.”

Despite the progress, Jae thinks that NFPA’s online training program is only scratching the surface of what it will eventually become. Since the beginning of 2020 alone, NFPA has launched 13 new online learning courses, including five in Spanish, on topics ranging from fire door inspections to construction site safety planning to the fundamentals of life safety in buildings. For the first time, it also began offering live virtual trainings, where instruction is offered via videoconferencing, closely replicating the in-class experience. That growth will only accelerate, Jae said.

“We’ll continue to build more topics and more levels, similar to the graduated curriculum that you see in college and universities—the 101, 201, 301 types of courses on the same topic,” Jae said. “We’ll keep adding courses at that pace for the next few years until we have the breadth and depth of content that our stakeholders need to solve the biggest problems they face at work.”

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor of NFPA Journal. Top photograph: NFPA