Health systems and public health agencies looking to have a positive impact on community members are building—or thinking about building—a community health worker program. A program for CHWs (or promotores, health navigators, or people with similar titles) can be an important strategy for reaching out to the millions of people who need it most. It’s a relatively accessible way to address the vast health inequalities in America. But when they’re forced to move CHW training online, challenges arise.
Remote Learning as a CHW Training Strategy
Health agencies, systems, and state and local departments have never had so much technology at their fingertips. Training technology and online courses have developed just in time to meet the rising workforce of CHWs. As a program manager, you know it’s more than necessary to move training online, it’s also smart.
Online learning is also a logical way to train teams of all sizes while people work from home at least part-time. Workshops and conferences are either canceled or going virtual. While we all wait to go back to whatever “normal” will be, you can at least keep your program moving ahead as long as you and your team have a computer.
Here’s a resource for learning how to train your team as CHWs, if you’re looking for a deeper dive into the core competencies and workforce development.
Moving CHW training online also means you can quickly get staff up to speed on requirements and new skills exactly when you need them
Courses on immunizations, hygiene, or home visit safety can be ready for exactly when CHWs need skill refreshers or new information to deliver clients.
“The reality is that remote work cultures are on the rise as more individuals and team leadership have come to understand the value and advantages of this work structure,” says Robert Glazer, a capacity-building and leadership consultant and author of the book Elevate. He gives tips on migrating teams to work from home in a recent article.
CHWs appreciate being able to learn online, according to the learner feedback through CHWTraining courses and our partner courses. Being able to use forum posts, for example, can keep the conversation flowing over the entire duration of a course. And many like being able to review materials whenever they want a refresher.
“I like that the forum posts were interactive,” said one health promoter who took CHWTraining’s Diabetes and Prediabetes. “They’re a good way to communicate your thoughts as the course progressed.”
The motivations for transitioning from face-to-face to online are clear. Making the leap to launch educational technology can be done gradually, all at once, or in a limited way.
So how do you know where to start when launching a CHW ed-tech program?
Steps to Moving CHW Training Online
1) Create a CHW Training Task Force
If you’re reading this article, you already know the value of creating a CHW training program. You may even have a supervisor who sees the value. Now take your conviction that you need to keep your CHW program moving and take it to stakeholders.
Be a cheerleader, because CHWs are still criminally under-appreciated. Agencies will happily fund programs that bring money to the health system. But they’re short-sighted about programs that save money.
Assemble a CHW training task force to help spread the word about your program and help merge CHWs into your existing structure. Include leaders from your own agency, medical establishments, the community, partners.
If you work together, you can spread the word about your program, how it will help, and you won’t be the only one working on the initiative.
2) Assess online training tools for CHWs.
Start by assessing what sorts of tools you have for online training. This makes your shift easy because the infrastructure is already there. It pays to ask around, because there may be more available to you than you think.
We regularly work with clients who share an office with others with robust and useful training tools — but no one is aware and they’re not sharing them. This happens regularly when programs rely on grants. The grant might support breast and cervical cancer screenings, but not HIV/AIDS client support. But both areas depend on outreach engagement skills, so why not share when you can?
Once you start asking around, you might find others have a full-fledged learning management system (LMS) your organization used for everything from HIPAA training to clinician training. Or you can open up your own subscription to more targeted courses through CHWTraining to others who can use it.
Expand your search for training tools to include other less-obvious resources, including:
- Ways to have discussions (Slack, message boards, group chat)
- Webinar technology (WebEx, Zoom, Skype)
- Video recordings (YouTube, Vimeo, CDC)
3) Introduce blended learning in your CHW program.
A successful CHW training plan can include both online and on-field experiences. You split the difference between keeping some training in person and pushing other topics online for a blended learning strategy. Blended learning mixes the best of training delivery methods to reach a variety of learning needs and varying subject matter. A live session allows for participants to meet each other and make connections with instructors and classmates that result in better retention. It also helps in delivering material that’s better suited to in-person instruction.
For example, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s CHW and Patient Navigation Online Course includes a 10-week online element that begins and concludes with face-to-face teaching. The instructors cover such topics as communication techniques in the group. This gives participants a chance to try out newfound skills with their colleagues. Other topics, such as documentation skills, convert easily to an online format.
4) Pair CHWs in training with experienced partners.
Many states with CHW certificate programs require learners to complete some degree of field training. Even if your employer doesn’t include this requirement, hands-on experience is irreplaceable in CHW training. It’s a great idea to pair a learner with someone who has experience on the job. Set up a system where supervisors or coaches can guide recent participants through using those foundational skills on the job.
This gives your CHWs a chance to apply what they learn online to a real-life setting. The real benefit of moving courses online is that learners can revisit courses while they’re doing fieldwork. It also makes it easier to sneak in training between visits with clients or on weekends and evenings.
Moving training online does have many moving parts. But it can be manageable, save costs, and be useful for CHWs.
Originally published March 13, 2020, updated March 19, 2021.