| 17 May 2021
As the world has shifted to accommodate anything from social distancing to total quarantine, learning has moved from classrooms and labs to the isolation of the home environment. This has been made possible by robust and timely eLearning modules and learning management systems, ensuring staff are up-to-date, highly skilled, and prepared for a fast-changing work environment. Delivering essential training and education in a completely remote way has overcome huge concerns over safety – both the safety of the staff in a time when face-to-face contact was fraught with danger, and the safety of the public who could be adversely affected by under-skilled and under-prepared staff, or staff absence.
Limitations of eLearning
There are some limitations to eLearning – some skills require practical sessions, and some people learn better face-to-face, or in a group learning environment. The logistics have to be addressed – for a workforce switching to eLearning, every member of staff needs access to a computer, needs to be online, and needs at least some level of IT skills and confidence.
The challenges of this sudden unexpected shift notwithstanding, the freedom and security an accessible eLearning platform can provide is unparalleled. Not all face-to-face learning can be replaced by the digital classroom, but a large portion of it can be delivered in an accessible, seamless and effective manner, perhaps even more so than in short classroom sessions. Even before the challenges brought by Covid-19, much NHS staff training was switching to offer a digital platform for some learning; Covid-19 meant that this became a necessity, rather than an option.
The benefits of eLearning – for staff
Through Covid-19, the NHS – as well as healthcare services around the world – have met significant changes and challenges in the way they work and their caseload. Redeployment, return from retirement, early graduation from nurse and medical training have been an essential part of the pandemic strategy. Those joining or re-joining the workforce during Covid-19 have had the same requirements for statutory and mandatory training as those joining in more ‘normal’ times – when new staff could be cohorted and inducted into an NHS trust or other healthcare provider. Being unable to provide this kind of induction has created novel opportunities to reassess modes of offered learning.
An effective learning management system can save significant hours of classroom learning, as well as bypassing physical accessibility issues, transport needs, and the capacity requirements for education settings. Training can therefore be completed in a more timely and cost-effective manner than in a classroom setting. This has the added bonus of freeing up time and space for educators to deliver those modules that do require classroom learning in smaller groups, allowing for individualised learning, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning between groups.
With effective and proven eLearning, even those subjects that require practical assessment can be minimised. Moving and handling, CPR and basic life support, and fire safety and evacuation training all require some level of classroom or skills lab learning, but can be supported by eLearning. Theory and knowledge can be gained at home or in a safe office environment, then practical sessions can be kept as short as possible, with fewer people in the classroom.
Covid-19 itself required some swiftly deployed, targeted learning material – public education has been key to combating this pandemic. Education for healthcare workers, especially those frontline staff in the most precarious and vulnerable positions has been paramount in ensuring a safe and appropriate response to the threat of Covid-19, and the practical care of people with this highly communicable disease. Rolling out specific training for healthcare workers through the pandemic has required a flexible, adaptable approach: material that could keep up with emerging evidence and fast-changing advice. We created a prompt and accessible learning package to help combat Covid-19. In light of the unfolding catastrophic human toll, a free version is available; here at Skills for Health, we believe that education is key to reducing the impact of Covid-19, and that this is a situation where the only ethical position is to make this essential education free for all.
The benefits of eLearning – for managers
eLearning management systems can be inherently monitorable and auditable – one of the major drawbacks to large traditional face-to-face classes is that they are measured by attendance, and occasionally by some consolidation assessment. Attendance does not equal effective learning, and this can be difficult to assess. eLearning can monitor whether learners view each part of a course, and even how long they spend on those parts. An assessment done in a home environment is more likely to accurately evaluate the understanding of the individual for whom the training was intended.
Digital platforms for staff management are multi-fold: a portal which monitors and audits compliance with mandatory training, and which is interoperable or interfaceable with staff deployment and rostering equipment means that the right staff have the right training, for the right areas. Digital rotas have become essential throughout a period where staff sickness absence was labile and unpredictable, and where a ‘scorched earth’ approach to infection risk meant that managers had to be ready for the absence or isolation of large numbers of staff within small teams or specific localities. Realtime digital rostering means monitoring and auditing staffing, instant callouts and seamless incorporation of bank or ad hoc staffing into a rota.
A management team who can be sure that their staff are well-trained, up-to-date, and ready for anything is an effective management team. The challenges of Covid-19 have been many, but necessity breeds invention, and this period has driven many positive changes in the way we work, learn, and live.