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8 Best Practices For Training Online Learners

March 19, 2019

Government, Our People

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Brigetta Craft

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Reingold Senior Director

As the workforce grows more dispersed and travel budgets get tighter, online training can seem like an easy way to update employee skills and instill best practices. But in reality, making sure your program is meaningful and sustainable can be tough.

In my 40-year career in health care, I’ve seen many attempts to create distance-learning programs for busy professionals. The TeamSTEPPS® program by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ) stands out for its success in making an e-learning initiative engaging, effective, and efficient — achieving long-term impact.

The Challenge: Meeting Growing Demand

In 2006, AHRQ (an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) partnered with the Department of Defense to release TeamSTEPPS as the national standard for enhancing teamwork skills in health care. By 2012, TeamSTEPPS had a waitlist of more than 900 people — far exceeding staff capacity to lead the trainings.

AHRQ hired a team including Reingold’s communications, health care, and education specialists to convert the two-day TeamSTEPPS training into an engaging online curriculum: TS 2.0. Five years later, our innovative approach to content development, promotion, and management had attracted more than 15,000 TS 2.0 learners — including 1,900 who became master trainers themselves — while reducing the burden on the AHRQ staff.

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Reingold converted TeamSTEPPS materials into engaging, 508-compliant online formats, including voiceover narration and interactive features.

Tactics for Successful e-Learning

My experience with TS 2.0 points to eight key tactics for designing an effective and manageable online learning program — combining the best parts of in-person education experiences with the continuous improvement and automation made possible by digital tools.

  • Make it flexible. We accommodated various learning objectives and schedules by enabling participants to complete the TS 2.0 curriculum at their own pace in a self-guided format. Learners could even complete a single module without taking the full course.
  • Use narrators with real-life stories to tell. To help learners connect the material with real-life situations, we recruited instructors who could share relevant professional experiences in every lesson. As a bonus, this tactic created opportunities for the kind of valuable interaction, mentorship, and networking that in-person education often provides.

 

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For TS 2.0, Reingold produced videos of in-person team exercises for viewers to see best practices for teaching others in their organization.

  • Test and optimize the user experience. A big reason for attrition in online training settings is learner frustration with the platform mechanics. We pre-empted this problem by piloting the program three weeks before our target launch date to improve potential trouble spots.
  • Retain students through personalization. To keep students engaged, each week Reingold staff members contacted learners who hadn’t logged in for more than 30 days. We helped them address challenges with specific TS 2.0 topics and other issues, which also helped us better understand and enhance the learner experience.
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Through high-touch support, TS 2.0 garnered a 71 percent completion rate, compared with the 6 percent average rate for similar no-cost online training.

  • Make troubleshooting easier for everyone. We minimized the burden of responding to learners’ help requests by creating and continually updating a library of common questions and answers. We then programmed the “help” button to remind learners about these FAQs before they submit a question for the AHRQ staff.
  • Focus on the serious learners. To move more enrolled learners to course completion, we converted the first set of lessons into a “prework” activity that required learners to make at least a nominal effort (e.g., checking for organizational readiness, signing a letter of intent) before gaining access to the full TS 2.0 curriculum. This step helped us screen out the less serious learners and boost our completion and satisfaction rates.
  • Make today’s students tomorrow’s teachers. By designing TS 2.0 as a “train the trainer” program, we reduced the need for the AHRQ staff to provide ongoing direct support. Eligible learners ended their coursework by teaching TeamSTEPPS concepts to an instructor and receiving feedback for effectively training their colleagues. Because body language, eye contact, and interaction are critical to this experience, we used video calls as often as possible.
  • Track data to keep improving. From the start, Reingold helped AHRQ establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for specific program objectives. We tracked data on these KPIs from the TS 2.0 system and from learner feedback and surveys. We also created a monthly dashboard of charts and graphs on learners’ progress, test scores, trouble areas, and questions. These data points helped Reingold and AHRQ continuously refine the program in response to new learners’ needs — and justify the agency’s continued investment in TS 2.0.

For more information about Reingold’s expertise in supporting e-learning programs, please contact KMiller@reingold.com.

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