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]