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  • Writer's pictureNikki Humber

Is e-Learning truly controversial?

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


This is the question I found myself asking and indeed answering at an NHS conference recently. I was working my way around the event stands, when one of the sponsors asked me what I did. When I mentioned that I worked with healthcare clinical and training leads to create bespoke e-learning content, the sponsor replied “Ooh … controversial”. I won’t lie, I was taken aback at this response and, seeing this, he quickly stated that he thought it wasn’t very popular. I’m not sure whether he meant that it isn’t implemented very often or that people just don’t like using it (neither of which has been true in my overall experience), but I took the opportunity to explain why I was an advocate of e-learning and how valuable I thought it was as a teaching tool. I hope I made them reconsider but, as their statement has stuck with me, I decided to explore it further in this blog.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about using e-learning… and I’m sure we’ve all had our own bad experiences with the medium. However, I’ve also seen a lot of brilliant e-learning that is both innovative and successful, with modules that not only meet their learning objectives but also engage the user. I’ll talk more about that in future blogs, but for today I want to focus on the use of software skills e-learning and why it is so successful when used to train clinical staff ready for a new system rollout.

Before I put on my ‘I ❤ e-learning’ hat, I want to explain that I started my L&D career nearly 15 years ago as a Clinical Systems trainer. I fully understand and respect the benefits of classroom sessions as both a recipient and trainer. There are many advantages to being in the same room as your delegates and being able to answer questions in real-time. In a face-to-face session, you can adapt the classroom experience as needed to either tailor the content for the delegates present or to provide extra support for those learners that require it. There is no doubt in my mind that instructor-led training (ILT) can be a very effective learning option. However, I would argue that the challenges involved in training large numbers of staff, as part of a new system rollout, mean quality training delivered on the day does not necessarily translate to effective learning in the long term.

The reasons for this will be familiar to programme managers and training leads everywhere. ILT has always been expensive and resource-heavy. The logistics and cost of finding venues and then releasing staff to attend sessions is an ongoing headache for training workstream leads and this is before you factor in trainer illness, training domains going offline (sometimes without warning) and staff failing to attend their designated day. Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is time. Large numbers of staff mean that training needs to commence months before go-live and this presents the following risks:

  1. Staff trained in the first sessions may not remember the system by the time go-live happens weeks or even months later

  2. The agreed processes signed off for the lesson plans at the start of the training may be drastically different by the time of go-live. So even if users remember the learning they received, it may no longer be accurate

  3. With evolving processes comes changed system screens and functionality. Hopefully, trainers will keep up to date with the new processes once they are agreed upon and adapt their courses to include them, but even if they do this, the training domain they are using may not be updated because of the downtime required

  4. Quality and consistency of training may be difficult to maintain with a large and/or changing pool of trainers meaning that some delegates may not get the correct information or the instructor-led support that they need

  5. Staff groups that are unable to easily attend ILT sessions, such as night workers, community workers, and agency, bank and locum staff may require training ‘on the job’ putting extra pressure on other staff on duty

I believe e-Learning can be a solution to all these issues. It provides a consistent training programme that is accessible at any time and can be easily updated as necessary. It is available for users to refresh their memory right up to the moment of go-live and then beyond, reducing the strain on IT helpdesks as staff can use it as a reference tool as needed. Additional updates can be pushed out to all users so that any last-minute changes are circulated to staff and their viewing and understanding of this change can be confirmed through assessment. It also allows organisations to train and confirm the competence of agency and locum staff immediately before a shift commences.

Historically, e-learning has been used to support classroom training, but I think there is real value in turning that on its head in this situation. I’ve often heard e-learning being described as a poor substitute for face-to-face sessions. Some feel that it’s the last resort when, for logistical or budget reasons, you can’t afford to deliver instructor-led training. In my opinion, and I don’t think that this is as controversial as some people make it out to be, e-learning should be first on your list as a training solution.

Then if there’s a budget, you can look to offer instructor-led sessions to complement it. For me, an ideal blended approach would include instructor-led sessions and floorwalkers to support the main element of training; e-learning. This blended approach could include workshops at the start of the process to keep staff informed of the benefits of the new system, followed by additional workshops to support and encourage user engagement of the e-learning. Then closer to go-live, ILT sessions could be scheduled to assist staff that struggle with new systems or whose complex and/or uncommon use of the system makes e-learning on its own ineffective.

Obviously, the e-Learning needs to be fit-for-purpose and I will be sharing my thoughts on the best ways to approach the creation of clinical systems e-Learning in a later blog. However, for now, I hope that any programme and training managers for clinical systems that are reading this might stop thinking of e-Learning as a controversial choice and perhaps start considering whether it should be their first choice.

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