Transitioning from in-person education to an e-learning program can be exciting and engaging for health agency employees — really!
But it can also pose a challenge. If you’re replacing existing training methods with technology and tools that feel foreign, your staff might feel intimidated. Especially if they’re used to a conference room with a speaker at the front. Change can be scary for some people, but it doesn’t have to be.
Adopting new training technology, such as online courses, means a different mindset for your agency staff. By doing some planning and strategy, you can roll out your new online training smoothly and get people trained as quickly as possible.
9 steps you can follow for a successful e-learning program.
1. Cultivate a positive attitude.
Start off by setting the tone for your e-learning program. Convey excitement and build anticipation around the start of the course. The right frame of mind helps people adopt new technology and other job changes. Nix any negative attitudes right away and remind your team that they are capable of learning new things and can succeed.
Think of your new course launch like the premiere of a Hollywood movie, so your employees are enthusiastic to begin.
2. Remind new learners of their existing experience.
Taking a class online is a lot easier than most people realize. Most people take for granted the kind of work they do on a computer, including checking their e-mail, posting to their social media accounts, or typing a document on a computer. With that kind of ability, they won’t have any trouble with an online course. Remind them of that.
Next, address their fear of the unknown by letting them try out the tools and see they’re not so tricky. You could:
- Use some screen recording software or a tutorial from your vendor to show how to get started.
- Arrange a presentation to introduce them to the learning system.
- Let them try it for themselves with a few simple tasks, such as logging in or changing their password.
Once they see the tasks aren’t very different from what they normally do on a computer, their fear factor will reduce considerably.
It’s still a good idea to ask an administrator to be available to new technology users to answer simple questions. You can also offer a computer-readiness quiz at the beginning of class to help pinpoint those who need extra help.
3. Show how the training relates to their job.
Some online training programs are vague and not well targeted. If your staff has had experience with these courses in the past, they might legitimately worry that they’ll have to sit through a course that doesn’t have anything to do with their job duties.
Solve this by relating any new training initiative with clear learning goals that are based on professional development. Then, when you do introduce a new program, it will immediately be relevant.
Be clear when you notify staff about the course that it will help them with X skill–provide real-life examples when possible. For example, tell them, “This new course on health literacy includes worksheets you can download and use to assess clients’ literacy levels.”
4. Give your e-learning program a pretty face.
For some people, the idea of not being able to sit in the same room with an instructor is a big turn-off. The reality is that time away from work in a training room is difficult and expensive, and “remote” learning doesn’t have to feel far away.
If you have a course facilitator, encourage them to introduce themself to your staff and ask them to share information with one another. Or post a picture of the course administrator along with a quick introduction. On the flip side, if there’s no one facilitating, include a picture of a person learning and enjoying it.
This will help build a personal rapport. It can also be helpful to build periodic conference calls into a course, or create virtual office hours, so participants can interact with the instructor. A mentoring structure can help too, if you can pair learners with experienced health workers.
The Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington State Department of Health solves this by presenting their community health workers with a blended learning model: an in-person session followed by an online program. Read more about how their program works.
A Practical Guide to Remote Training: A Toolkit by Talance
Gain the tools you need to feel confident developing a remote training program for your health organization or transitioning from in-person to virtual learning with your staff.
5. Give your team time to train.
Some learners are happy about the prospect of learning new skills. Others look at training as one more thing they have to add to their to-do list.
You can ease this anxiety by setting aside time for your team to work on their courses.
Also, remind them that an e-learning program is far more flexible than in-person training. Participants can do a bit of work when they have the time, break away to work with a client, and then come back to finish up. If 10 p.m. is a better time to work, they can work at 10 p.m. There’s no travel time.
6. Provide the right equipment.
Health staff are not technology staff, so they naturally don’t have access to the whole range of equipment someone who works in an office all day would. However, the list of equipment most people need for an e-learning program is pretty short, and most people either possess or can find access to what they’ll need. The list includes:
- A computer or smartphone
- Speakers or headphones
- A printer if they want to print anything out
Most people can go into an office to access a computer, if necessary, or they can visit their local library. You can make sure participants have their supplies by providing a “things you’ll need to begin” list and then telling them where they can find public access, if necessary.
7. Provide language options.
Many people who don’t speak English as a first language or fluently worry they won’t be able to keep up with an e-learning program. However, the feedback we’ve received from our courses shows the opposite. Because learners can reread text many times, listen to audio or experience the material in different ways, it makes it easier to spend the time necessary to process and understand the course.
If you have a critical mass of workers who need access in one language, you might consider having the course translated or offered in another language.
8. Set clear goals from the beginning.
Setting and reaching goals with your e-learning program is important to your staff. They need to see how their work fits in with the larger objectives of your agency. This is part of the research you should have uncovered in your training needs assessment.
Once you set them, then look at what might make them more difficult to reach. In many cases, there could be a training gap. The gap might be:
- Individual. If one person lacks the skills to complete a task, they have an individual training gap. For example your new hire needs to do community outreach for your agency, but they don’t have any outreach skills.
- Team. Your whole team might lack skills to carry out an initiative, so they have a team learning gap. An example almost everyone can relate to is setting up new protocols for Covid-19.
- Organizational. Entire agencies sometimes have a gap in an area and have an organizational learning gap. Many organizations recognize they have gaps in cultural competency and have needed to supplement training in that area.
Learning goals might even reach into the future, and they can dovetail nicely with personal goals of your team. You can ask your employees what they’d like to learn in the next month, quarter, or year, and then provide them with training opportunities to get there.
9. Encourage learners to connect.
Some employees are afraid they’ll feel isolated during an e-learning program because they won’t be able to meet the other people in the course. In feedback we’ve received in our courses, we’ve found just the opposite.
One woman, for instance, said she met many more people in her online courses than she does when she’s in a live training. In a conference room, she talks only to the people sitting on either side of her, but online, she had lengthy and meaningful discourse with everyone in the course.
Online courses are also easily adapted, so you can offer support materials that do relate well to the community. You can ask participants to share personal stories with the group and provide lists of local resources and agencies that they will find useful. The best courses are the ones that reflect the people taking them.
The success of your e-learning program begins when you address any challenges your staff may fear.
The best way to address any fear is to acknowledge it, so your staff knows you’re taking them seriously, and then provide examples and evidence to make them feel more at ease. After the first week, most participants will wonder why they were ever worried in the first place.
Originally published June 6, 2014, updated October 11, 2021.