Assess These 3 Important Areas of a Health Worker Training Program

A needs analysis, or assessment, is an important first step in creating a health worker online training initiative. Establishing what stakeholders need from a program, and what your trainees need to learn, will help you create a program that has a greater chance of success.

But too many people either skip the step of creating a needs assessment, or they make mistakes. If a training needs assessment is messy, it could set the tone for your entire program, and could leave unsatisfied health workers or wasted funds.

One common mistake is looking too narrowly at your organization when documenting needs. For example, some administrators know they need to address a knowledge gap because of new cancer screening guidelines. But they forget to consider if their in-person training staff is qualified to handle online discussions. They assume that uploading a PDF toolkit to a website will be enough to everyone. Looking at only one piece of the puzzle will solve exactly one piece.

When you’re planning for bringing online training to your community workers, minimally start by looking at what your students need; what your agency, organization or funder needs; and what kind of technology you need to make it a success. Likely, there are other factors you’ll need to assess, but you can start here, more or less in this order:

1. Find out what your employees need to learn.

Assess what your learners need to know. Do they need cultural communication techniques? Do they lack health literacy skills? Does your state require anything for certification? Start there. You may also have results-based needs, such as addressing a growing population with an influx of volunteer community liasons. Looking at gaps in learning will help you identify how to address them.

Note: You can ask your students what they want to learn, but proceed down this road with caution. Sometimes, they don’t know what they need and lack the terminology to tell you, or have very little experience with (or love of) online learning.

2. Determine gaps in your infrastructure.

Assume you’ve identified what your audience needs to learn, and then back up and see what weaknesses you see in your infrastructure to make that happen. For example, you might need to hire a new fleet of trainers with skills in online teaching strategies. Or, your grant has reporting requirements, and you’ll need evaluation tools to address them. You also can group stakeholders with your infrastructure, because they will also have requirements you’ll need to address, such as the ability to become self-supporting with your new courses.

3. Decide on the best technology for your needs.

Knowing what your needs are for learning and for your infrastructure will help greatly when you analyze what kind of technology will work best for your organization. Then you can begin to decide if you need self-paced learning, you want instructor-led online courses (and what those instructors need), or are looking to build a blended-learning program. When you have a list of digital tools and features you need, you can measure them against providers and vendors that can help address those.

Remember that a needs assessment is just the beginning. Look at it as the launching point for a deep investigation into what it will take for your program to succeed. Jumping into something for the sake of it might seem like the fast solution, but you’ll be glad you took the time to look deeply into your requirements before you begin building.

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Avoid These CHW Training Program Bad Habits

Boring training

Healthcare organizations spend millions on training community health worker staff online, and, frankly, much of that is wasted. The reason is that too many administrators wrongly assume that by simply rolling out a program, it will be successful.

Below are some bad habits I’ve seen many times in health worker training programs, and some suggestions for making your computer-based staff training more effective.

Focus on fundamentals.

One bad habit is habitually offering training that is too advanced. A small challenge can be a motivator, but material that is too advanced will make employees disengage. The fix is to focus first on fundamental skills (e.g., documentation skills, communication techniques) before moving on. Make sure your whole team follows the same basics–even if it seems elementary to some–and establish a baseline. Then build from there depending on your organizational function.

Keep teaching.

Learning doesn’t stop when you put down your reading material, so why should teaching? Rather than making employee training a one-time event or something that happens only once a year, keep teaching when your health workers are out in the field. Reinforce skills training outside of the classroom and on the job. This is a good opportunity for blended learning, in which you can employ a coach to help reinforce skills picked up in the online course on the job.

Focus on goals.

Education that doesn’t meet your organizational goals is a sure sign for failure. Your CHWs won’t understand why they’re taking it, and it won’t support your overall mission. Yet, many companies simply subscribe to online courses because they’re easy. Tie training into goals, and administrators, stakeholders, the organization and employees will benefit.

Here’s some help on being systematic about setting goals.

Be fun.

So often online training is so frightfully boring that employees will do anything to avoid it–including checking email while logged in, making calls, or whatever they can do to just get through a requirement. If you’ve made your training relevant (see below), that helps with engagement, but so do carrots. Dangle certificates, prizes or contests to increase motivation.

Make it relevant.

If learners can’t see themselves and the people they work with in a course, they’ll lose interest quickly, and the course won’t click. Customize your training to situations and your employee demographic. People perform better when they can relate to the information.

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Training Points You Should Be Evaluating

Checklist

Successful healthcare employee training programs are those that are tracked and evaluated. Most organizations know that, but they often fail at the very beginning to look at the individual pieces of the whole program. Being too general with evaluation will mean you miss out on important data that you can use immediately to improve your efforts.

Some areas you can measure before you begin, some while a course is in process, and others as part of a longer effort. Look at the individual parts of your program, give your evaluation some context, and you’ll be able to have a clearer idea of what’s working–and what isn’t.

Training program

Is the program meeting its goals (remember: you set program goals before you even began assembling anything)? How does it stack up against your success measures (setting measures of success is another exercise you should have done at the offset). Are the key stakeholders satisfied? Is there a return on investment, both in terms of money and effort?

Individual courses

Next, focus in on individual courses. Pull out your measures of success and course goals and hold them against courses. Are you hitting your targets? Are your health workers able to demonstrate that they’ve improved their skills?

Instructor

Separate the instructor from the course, and look at how they’re doing. Look at evaluations from students and also measure performance against job requirements. Does the instructor have the right training and temperament to teach online? Do they need additional education in either online instruction or health topics? Are they accessible to students and good at facilitating discussion? Also review teaching strategies to make sure you’re asking the instructor to deliver information the right way.

Resources

Resources go stale quickly online, so make sure links are up to date and that external websites you’re referring are still relevant. Screening guidelines change quickly, which might make them irrelevant or provide opportunities for improvement. Also evaluate whether resources were used correctly or if there’s a better option that meets your objectives.

Activities

Evaluate every learning activities right after it was completed so instructors and administrators know if participants are learning and if the activity serves the learning objective. Pair activities with learning objectives and weigh the outcome. If it seems unclear, you may need to evaluate your course’s learning objectives as well.

Technology

Finally, look at your delivery mechanism and see if it is serving your goals or hindering education. Do you have the capacity you need to offer training online, or would it make sense to outsource it? How do participants and instructors feel about the tools? What deficiencies or improvements could you implement to make the experience better?

Look at evaluation early and often, and your program will continue to improve. As you finish one round of evaluations, also evaluate your evaluation process so it’s even better next time. Your employees and your organization will benefit.

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