7 Supereffective Ways To Respond To Every Healthcare Learner

Offer a better online training experience for health staff by adapting to the needs of each learner. Here’s how.

It’s a common misconception that each online course is the same as the one before it. Courses are made up of people, and everyone is different. This is especially true for community health workers, who may be skilled or unskilled, experienced or new, expert English speakers or expert in another language. Your training program and your facilitator must be adaptable to each training session if you want to keep such a diverse group of people engaged. These are seven common hurdles in online training programs and some easy solutions.

1. Pepper your material and discussions with knowledge-checks

Frequent knowledge-checks, which are much shorter than quizzes, can help keep learners engaged and also help them determine if they understand the material or not. These are most useful with dense material. E-learning tools you can use are polls, questions on the discussion board  or even a question on one page followed by the answer on the next.

2. Break a big class into small discussion groups

Large groups of health workers are hard for a single facilitator to manage, and they also make it easy for some learners to lurk and become forgotten. Pose on-the-fly discussion questions that will get students speaking with each other. You might form groups by specialty (diabetes people vs. cancer pre-screening people), region (clinic or geographic area) or expertise (seasoned nurses with new CHWs).

3. Invite guest facilitators

Long courses can become monotonous, and–let’s face it–not every facilitator connects with every learner. Address both issues by inviting a guest to answer questions in the forum for a week or host a one-time web chat. This is an excellent way to include subject matter experts from different programs, departments or agencies.

4. Send pre-written messages

Course participation will stay at a consistently higher level if you send pre-written reminders or encouragement throughout the course.  Send messages when the course has begun, when new sections open, at the half-way point, when certificates will be ready, etc.

5. Dangle carrots to eliminate drop-outs

Fatigue often sets in after a few weeks of course, and that’s when learners drop out. Resort to bribery to keep learners logging in. Carrots include: completion certificates, equipment they can use on the job such as stethoscopes or notebooks, last-day-of-class party.

6. Schedule a web chat or call for new material

When the topics you’re offering change significantly in the middle of a course, it can help flow and engagement to schedule a web chat or conference call to address the new material. This will signify a shift in directions and give participants a chance to ask any last questions about previous content.

For example, the CHW and patient navigator training from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health offers a mid-point phone call to launch new material that’s focused on health topics, rather than core skills.

7. Stockpile good questions

Even the best facilitators can feel unenthusiastic about leading online discussions sometimes. Address burnout by having a template of questions at hand that only require a cut and paste, and put the responsibility to reply on participants. A few examples are below. Save these for your next course.

  • Everyone brainstorm a few possible solutions to that.
  • Please give an example of that.
  • Did you ever experience something like that before?  Provide details.
  • Explain how you arrived at that conclusion.
  • Say how you see that relating to [insert topic here].
  • What more can you say about that?
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Washington helps hundreds of community health workers begin new careers

Washington’s Office of Healthy Communities offers an innovative online training program for a new breed of workers that could help define the future of healthcare.

June 17, 2014 08:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time

WOBURN, MA–The Office of Healthy Communities already works with community members by funding programs that improve health, such as cancer screenings and help with substance abuse. Now the Washington Department of Health agency is offering an ambitious program to train hundreds of health workers to work closely with populations that need extra help–and save hospitals money along the way.

Its Community Health Worker Training program (http://www.doh.wa.gov/chwts) gives new or experienced community health workers the skills they need to go into neighborhoods and help people receive better healthcare. The program trains approximately 500 people a year with a flexible training program that combines traditional on-site sessions with a progressive online learning management system.

The hybrid learning format, built with e-learning development firm Talance, Inc. (http://talance.com/elearning), is key to the program’s success, because it allows workers from every corner of the state–no matter how rural–to participate in the training.

Prior to the program, only some community health workers had received training from their employers. Training, which covers such topics as documentation skills and breast cancer screening, was inconsistent, with varying levels and not tailored to the state’s populations of community health workers. Remote areas, which are where community health workers are most often needed, offer few training options, and commuting into a major city for an in-person course is difficult for full-time workers to manage.

“E-learning allows us to reach remote areas of the state to teach community health workers. Staff only need to stay one day in each location thus lowering the cost of delivering the training significantly,” says Debbie Spink, instructor in the Office of Healthy Communities. “We need the support of the online curriculum. It would be cost prohibitive to offer this training only in-person.”

Organizations across the world send community health workers on house calls, especially in poor areas where residents might not have access to doctors or where they visit the emergency room for minor problems. Program graduates help clients follow the doctor’s orders and take charge of their health, reducing the need for additional care.

It’s an easy win for hospitals and health centers, which have invested in creating new positions for community health workers. More skilled community members knocking on doors means fewer people crowding emergency rooms.

The federal government also sees the value of community health workers. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has pumped funds into the development of community health workers, because there’s potential to save money through this large workforce.

The Office of Healthy Communities’ program is popular with providers and community agencies around the state. More than 100 of them send employees for training, including AmeriCorps, SeaMar, Aging and Long Term Care, and Planned Parenthood.

Community health workers can participate in one of seven regional core skills courses and take one of eight health-specific programs. A program that began as presentation-based staff training, delivered ad hoc at employer sites, has evolved into a consistent statewide program that educates hundreds of people through audio, video, and discussion boards.

VIDEO: Watch and listen (MP4) (mms://dohmedia.doh.wa.gov/cfh/communityhealthvideo4.wmv) to what people are saying about their Community Health Worker training experience.

About Talance, Inc: Talance, Inc., is a Boston-area e-learning company founded in 2000. It has offered courses and programs for some of the nation’s biggest health and human services organizations and has helped adult learners reach their career advancement and personal enrichment goals. Learn more at www.chwtraining.org.

To learn more, please visit: www.talance.com.

Follow Talance on LinkedIn and Twitter.

CONTACT: Monique Cuvelier, (888) 810-9109

7 Resources That Will Improve Your Training Program's Accessibility

CHWTraining’s courses are always built for standards in accessibility, but the reason we take the extra care and precautions isn’t necessarily clear to everyone. The following resources will help program directors understand what’s so important about making courses available to everyone, along with some tips to improve what you offer.

Access E-Learning

Access E-Learning is a free online tutorial from the Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) project at Georgia Tech. The tutorial is comprised of 10 modules that offer information, instructional techniques, and practice labs on how to make the most common needs in distance education accessible for individuals with disabilities, and enhance the usability of online materials for all students. View Access E-Learning >>

Resources for Accessible eLearning for People Who are Blind

A through and helpful listing of checklists, webpages, screen readers, articles and guidelines for creating and offering digital education resources. View Resources for Accessible eLearning for People Who are Blind >>

Accessibility of eLearning

OpenLearn, from Britain’s inimitable Open University, presents a free 15-hour course for professional educators about how disabled students learn online. It covers the technology and techniques used by disabled students, the adjustments to teaching methods that might be reasonable, design decisions which affect the accessibility of eLearning tools and strategies for evaluation. View Accessibility of eLearning >>

Texas HHS Accessibility Checklist for eLearning

These template checklists (available as a Word document) from Texas Health and Human Services will help you evaluate the accessibility status of an e-learning module. It’s helpful for program administrators who want to make sure their initiatives are open to learners of all abilities. View Texas HHS Accessibility Checklist for eLearning >>

E-Learning Accessibility

This presentation (a PDF download) from Richard Helbock, Digital Media Specialist at Western New Mexico University, is “An Introduction to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and WCAG 2.0 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.” It’s a helpful overview of what accessibility is and government requirements regarding making courses and other online content available to learners. View E-Learning Accessibility >>

Accessibility and the law from Concordia University

A sobering summary of a lawsuit against Louisiana Tech University, which the university lost, about the importance of making content available in an accessible format: “In short, a blind student was enrolled in a course that required students to submit assignments through an online interface, MyOMLab, but the technology that the student used to access the materials would not work with MyOMLab.” View Accessibility and the law from Concordia University >>


The official government website that covers laws, regulations, resources and best practices for accessibility compliance. View Section508.gov >>

The 10 Biggest Fears Your CHW Staff Has About E-learning (And How To Overcome Them)

Acceptance, adjustment, and setting expectations are critical to overcoming obstacles with training your community health worker staff online.

Fear of elearning

Fear of online courses might not be as severe as fear of flying or public speaking, but for many people it’s right up there. After more than a decade in bringing computer-based training to new learners, however, we’ve learned how to conquer anyone’s phobia. Here are the top 10 fears we hear and how you can address them as you bring online learning to your team.

1. I don’t understand technology!

Taking a class online is much less challenging than most people realize. Most health workers can do basic tasks such as checking their e-mail, posting to their Facebook accounts, or typing a document on a computer. With that kind of ability, they won’t have any trouble with an online course.

The best way to address these fears is head-on: let your staff try it for themselves. Arrange a presentation to introduce them to the learning system, and then let them try it for themselves with a few simple tasks, such as logging in or changing their password. Once they see the tasks aren’t very different from what they normally do on a computer, their fear factor will reduce considerably.

It’s still a good idea to ask your facilitator to be available to new technology users to answer simple questions. You can also offer a computer-readiness quiz at the beginning of class to help pinpoint those who need extra help.

2. It won’t relate to my job!

This is a valid fear when based on past experience. Some online trainings, especially for health professionals, are vague and not well targeted. If your staff has experience with these courses in the past, they might legitimately worry that they’ll have to sit through a course that doesn’t have anything to do with visit clients and health education.

Make sure that you are careful to relate any new training initiative with clear learning goals that are based on professional development, so when you do introduce a new program, it will immediately be relevant. Be clear when you notify staff about the course that it will help them with X skill–provide real-life examples when possible. For example, tell them, “This new course on health literacy includes worksheets you can download and use to assess clients’ literacy levels.”

3. I can’t see the instructor!

For some people, the idea of not being able to sit in the same room with an instructor is a big turn-off. The reality is that time away from work in a training room is difficult and expensive, and “remote” learning doesn’t have to feel far away.

Encourage the instructor to introduce themselves to your staff and ask them to share information with one another. This will help build a personal rapport. It can also be helpful to build periodic conference calls into a course, or create virtual office hours, so participants can interact with the instructor. A mentoring structure can help too, if you can pair learners with experienced health workers.

The Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington State Department of Health solves this by presenting their community health workers with a blended learning model: an in-person session followed by an online program. Read more about how their program works.

4. It won’t relate to my community!

Community health workers know the people who live in their communities well, and they might fear a course won’t reflect the people they work with. All of our courses are based on the work that real health workers do in the field so they feel relatable to participants.

Online courses are also easily adapted, so you can offer support materials that do relate well to the community. You can ask participants to share personal stories with the group and provide lists of local resources and agencies that they will find useful. The best courses are the ones that reflect the people taking them.

5. I don’t have the time!

This fear, which I’ve heard many times, is simply unfounded. An online course is far more flexible than an in-person training. Participants can do a bit of work when they have the time, break away to work with a client, and then come back to finish up. If 10 p.m. is a better time to work, they can work at 10 p.m. There’s no travel time. Simply point out these facts to anyone who throws up this roadblock, and the discussion should be over.

6. I don’t have equipment!

Health staff are not technology staff, so they naturally don’t have access to the whole range of equipment someone who works in an office all day would. However, the list of equipment most people need for taking an online course is pretty short, and most people either possess or can find access to what they’ll need. The list includes:

  • A computer or smartphone
  • Speakers or headphones (optional)
  • A printer if they want to print anything out

Most health workers can go into an office to access a computer, if necessary, or they can visit their local library. You can make sure participants have their supplies by providing a “things you’ll need to begin” list and then telling them where they can find public access, if necessary.

7. I won’t understand the language!

Many CHWs who don’t speak English as a first language or fluently worry they won’t be able to keep up with a text-based course. In feedback from our courses, we’ve found just the opposite. Because learners can reread text many times, listen to audio or experience the material in different ways, it makes it easier to spend the time necessary to process and understand the course.

If you have a critical mass of workers who need access in one language, you might consider having the course translated.

8. I don’t have any clinical skills!

Health workers come into their jobs from a range of backgrounds. Some might have a good deal of technical health background, such as trained doctors, and some might be closer to a community liaison who has little clinical knowledge but who knows the people around them.

The best way to address these fears is to begin on an even playing field. Start with a basics course that gives a foundation on which to build. When they’re done with the basics, they can move on to more technical information if it’s relevant. If you have a handful of more experienced workers in the course, appoint them as mentors or coaches, so they feel challenged while getting to know their classmates.

9. I won’t get to know my classmates!

Some employees are afraid they’ll feel isolated by working on a computer and won’t be able to meet the other people in the course. In feedback we’ve received in our courses, we’ve found just the opposite. One woman, for instance, said she met many more people than she does when she’s in a live training. In a conference room, she talks only to the people sitting on either side of her, but online, she had lengthy and meaningful discourse with everyone in the course.

10. I’ll fail the tests!

People understandably fear taking tests, but in an online course, it’s not about the tests. It’s about the experience of being online, reading the material, gathering resources that apply to your job, communicating with classmates.

In our courses, we have only a couple short assessments, and otherwise don’t offer tests. Tests don’t necessarily increase learner engagement–relevant content engages learners. Address this one by simply not giving tests.

The best way to address any fear is to acknowledge it, so your staff knows you’re taking them seriously, and then provide examples and evidence to make them feel more at ease. After the first week, most participants will wonder why they were ever worried in the first place.

Free Download: How Washington’s Office of Healthy Communities Uses E-learning to Train up to 500 CHWs a Year

Download CHWTraining’s free case study to learn how this state department created a successful program to train community health workers.

[Photo credit: Sunset skydiving by latch.r, on Flickr]

Case Study: CHW Success with Blended Learning

The Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington Department of Health’s high aspirations: train 500 health workers per year.

In the fall of 2012, the Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington Department of Health began an enormous task. The aim was to build a program that would be able to train 500 community health workers (CHWs) around the state. Participants would be able to apply new skills while they were working and without major disruption to their jobs.

Two years on, the program has become a resounding success.

Washington stands out from other CHW training programs in both its capacity to train workers and also in its catalog of courses, which features a cornerstone core skills program and also several skill-building courses in disease prevention and screening. The blended learning program is comprised of both in-person sessions and online lessons. Together, the program saves money and appeals to the state’s wide population of health workers.

“This online learning solution from Talance was a logical choice for addressing some of our challenges,” says Debbie Spink, an instructor for the program. “E-learning assures all students receive consistent up-to-date quality information and skill building. Students love the freedom it gives them to participate when their schedule permits.”

CHWs are public health workers who provide education to people at risk for poor health, healthcare and disease. They often work in the communities they serve and have a deep relationships with clients, as opposed to a primary care physician.

Community health workers are also busy, and can be located in remote areas, which makes it difficult to attend lengthy in-person trainings. The ability to take remote courses hosted by and built with Talance has been one major factor in the success of the program.

Free Download: Washington State Department of Health Case Study

Read more about this successful program by downloading a free copy of the case study.