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How we made learning more accessible for NHS employees

24 Jun 2020 By Cheryl Guest and Phil Wainwright

As Cheryl Guest and Phil Wainwright explain, introducing a set of bite-size online courses is helping health workers make their own service improvements

Giving employees access to valuable, cost-effective learning opportunities can be  challenging for employers. Employees are often spread across large geographical areas, meaning travel can be expensive and time-consuming. Learning opportunities often mean at least a day out of the office at a time, and can’t be broken down into more manageable chunks. 

This is especially the case in the NHS, where many employees can rarely afford to leave the frontline to attend training. At NHS England and NHS Improvement, one of our roles is to help staff develop their skills and knowledge in quality improvement. We needed a way to do this that would allow employees to gain access to high-quality learning opportunities, while minimising the cost and time commitment for them.

As the digital education team in NHS England and NHS Improvement, a key part of our response was to design and deliver improvement fundamentals – a massive open online course (MOOC). Based on our learning from running the course, here are four top tips on how to use a MOOC effectively in your organisation:

Make the learning collaborative

We wanted our participants to have plenty of opportunities to share their learning with each other throughout the course, to harness the vast collective knowledge across the NHS.

We built the course on a platform that allowed participants to comment on every learning object, and to ‘like’ and respond to other’s contributions. We also developed an active Twitter community through the use of ‘tweet chats’.

Split the learning into bite-size chunks

The feedback from the course evaluation showed that participants really wanted short, bite-size learning opportunities that would not keep them at their desks for too long at a time.

So we developed four mini courses, each divided into five modules. We facilitated each mini course ‘live’ for a week, during which time participants had access to improvement leaders for guidance and advice. Participants were able to complete the courses in their own time, with each taking around 2.5 hours in total. This could be done all together or in 30-minute sections throughout the week, or in their own time after the facilitated week.

Make it practical

Give your employees plenty of opportunities to put their learning into practice. Our MOOC offers participants the chance to establish a small improvement project in their own workplace that is supported through guided exercises and templates from the course. Learners are then able to write up the results of this project into a case study and apply for Hiker (health improvement knowledge and experience resource) status.

Make the learning available everywhere

For us, it was vital that the learning was available everywhere, and would work on mobile devices as well as laptops and PCs. As one of our MOOC participants told us: “One of the elements of working in the geographic location I work in is that sometimes you can be quite isolated because you may be the only one working in this area, or it's a lot of trying to make the links across. As a fundamental part of the way the MOOC is delivered, it means you can network with like-minded people nationally and internationally and it really opens your eyes and broadens your horizons.”

Cheryl Guest is senior digital educator, and Phil Wainwright improvement communications manager, at NHS England and NHS Improvement

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