How to Create an Annual Training Plan for Your Program

Every year brings a new cycle of best practices, guidelines, mandatory education, and professional learning goals. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of requirements and aspirations and either over-train your staff for tasks they’ll never do, or skip over essential skills that would help them do their job better.

The answer is to create an annual training plan. This should be a document will be your navigation system for organizing, delivering, and repeating employee instruction whenever you need it.

If you create an annual training plan, then you can include requirements that come up year after year (e.g., HIPAA compliance) and also have a pathway for introducing new topics to keep building the skills of your team.

Follow these five steps, and you’ll be on your way to an effective learning program that becomes easier to achieve with each passing year.

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1. Consult Your Training Needs Assessment

The first step in starting an annual training plan for your program is to look at the training needs assessment to see what your team needs to know.

Finding out what your stakeholders need from a program and what your employees need to learn will make sure that everything fits together and supports your ultimate goals.

For example, imagine you run an HIV/AIDS program and the main goal of your program is to reduce the number of new HIV infections annually. Work backwards from there to come up with skills your team needs to know so you can deliver that to your trainees. This kind of team probably need to know the basics of what HIV/AIDS is, how it affects your community, prevention and treatment, and outreach and communication skills.

You might also want to include additional factors such as:

  • Overall agency goals or vision statement
  • The skills included in job descriptions
  • Compliance requirements, such as those for sexual harassment, HIPAA or patient rights

2. Decide Who Needs Training

Assume you’ve identified what your audience needs to learn. Next, figure out who needs to learn these skills.

Some people will be obvious, such as the people directly working on your program. And others are less obvious, such as other support staff or community partners.

Think about the HIV program example above. If you ran this program, you might need to include in your plan:

  • Yourself, as well as other managers and coordinators from partner programs
  • Case managers
  • Patient navigators
  • Outreach workers
  • Nurses
  • Nonprofit community partners
  • Members of a multidisciplinary team

You can group stakeholders with your infrastructure, because they will also have requirements you’ll need to address, such as the ability to become self-supporting with your new courses.

3. Optimize for Training Your Adult Learners

Keep adult learners engaged and help them retain what they learn by exposing them to the right kind of training materials. Some people define the word “training” very broadly, from a semester of college classes to a single PDF.

Keep adult learning principles in mind, and your staff will perform much better. Adult learning is relevant to the job, career and personal goals, task-oriented, interactive and usually self-directed.

Look at your training plan as a way to capture what works and repeat it in future offerings. It’s a great idea store the training materials in various formats to appeal to people who learn best in different ways. Some examples:

  • Written process documents especially used exactly when needed. An example would be a protocol for intakes on the phone, which is kept by the phone.
  • Screen shorts of video captures of process, live presentations, or demonstrations by in-house or outsourced experts.
  • Hosted elearning that’s available on demand. A learning management system (LMS) makes it easy to standardize training for everyone and is at hand whenever new hires need it or when veterans need an update. An LMS is a platform that you can use to deliver, track, and report on your training efforts.
  • Hands-on experience to bring the theory of training into practice. Give your staff the opportunity and chance to work on their new skills, and assign mentors and coaches to answer questions and provide guidance.

4. Connect All Parts of the Process

The point of creating an annual training plan is to work it into a repeatable cycle that supports overall goals. Here’s a structure that fits many agencies:

connect all parts of the process

Start with the needs assessment or competency assessment to identify gaps to be filled with training.

Then find the areas for improvement and build those onto the employee’s individual training plan for their job.

That will go into an employee’s overall professional development plan, which is a chart for that person’s career at your agency.

Every year, check progress against these plans in an annual performance review, identifying areas to focus on for the coming year.

By building structure into your training plan for the year, you’ll get results and be ready for many years to come.

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Webinar: Women’s Health and COVID-19

Women’s health has been hit harder by COVID-19 than men. They’re skipping cancer screening (and missing diagnoses), dropping out of their jobs, and more effected by domestic abuse–just to name a few reasons why.

As we continue to learn about this pandemic and how to navigate through this time, understanding the key ways you can help mitigate some of the damage starts by seeing a clear picture of COVID’s unknown consequences.

Missed January 19th’s COVID-19 & Women’s Health: What You Need To Know webinar with Talance CEO Monique Cuvelier and Health Educator/Evidence-Based Birth® Instructor, Mary Etna Haac? No problem! You can watch it on demand.

Click here to receive the replay.

In this comprehensive webinar, you’ll learn:

  • How COVID-19 affects women disproportionately
  • Important health guidelines and mandates for women, including maternal and child health
  • Strategies and practices for equitable health support of women and families

Plus, as a thank you for joining, you’ll be receiving a bundle of valuable resources to help prepare you for supporting the women and families in your community, including top resources for the most pressing women’s health issues, COVID-19 resources, and advice from women’s health experts including birth specialists.

Click here to receive the replay.

If you’re looking for learning solutions and training materials for your team, learn more about what Talance does. For a free consultation, contact us directly.

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Cultural Competency: What It Is and Why It’s Needed in Healthcare

Healthcare is better than ever, in many ways. Improvements in research and technology mean that providers and systems have the ability to screen and treat people early and better. This means that many people can avoid health problems that could disrupt their lives or cause early death.

But the ability to provide this kind of care is not the same as actually providing it. Too often, minority groups are left out of the innovation and don’t receive equal access to care.

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Implicit Bias and Health Disparities

This gap in care is down to bias blind spots—sometimes intentional and sometimes implicit or unconscious bias—that leaves out wide swaths of the population.

People sometimes have vastly different healthcare experiences because of their race/ethnicity, income, geographic location, sexual preference, or other characteristics. These health disparities mean that many populations are disproportionately burdened by chronic illnesses and other health concerns.

More African Americans and Latinos, compared to whites, have at least one of seven chronic conditions: asthma, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or anxiety/ depression.

Some of this is because they don’t get treated quickly or at all, compared to white populations.

Share of Nonelderly Adults Who Did Not Receive Care or Delayed Care in the Past Year by Race/Ethnicity, 2018

Source: KFF

As a healthcare leader, it’s impossible to ignore figures like these.

That’s why it’s imperative for agencies to not only understand health disparities but also develop cultural competence among your team.

What Is Cultural Competence?

For your staff and volunteers, cultural competency is being able to help the people in your community have better access to appropriate healthcare and to have their best possible health. Also it means to do so while working within the context of your clients’ cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs.

Cultural competency is an essential element that bridges the people in your community and the healthcare system.

COVID-19 & Women's Health: What You Need To Know

In terms of services and care, this might look like:

  • Providing interpreters when necessary
  • Addressing gaps in health literacy
  • Recruiting and training a culturally diverse team
  • Setting up clinics and providers to offer transgender care
  • Providing training to all staff in cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Collaborating with traditional healers
  • Offering specialized training on LGBTQ+ health issues
  • Hiring and training community health workers
  • Recognizing and applying culture-specific attitudes in health promotion

Note that these practices are both inward facing and outward facing for healthcare agencies. Yes, it’s about having a diverse team, but it’s also about knowing how to talk to a diverse community. You must be fully aware of your organization in order for that to extend to your client community.

Providing Cultural Competency Training

To create a workplace with cultural competence, you’ll need to invest in change, including continued learning, listening, and evolving. Health professionals need to learn how to deliver services with awareness and sensitivity.

Training is a good place to start. Ideally, you’ll have ongoing learning efforts that cover a variety of topics.

Look for or create training programs that cover areas such as …

Health disparities and social determinants of health: Understanding how socioeconomic and sociocultural factors effect clients, patients, and providers.

Implicit bias training for healthcare providers: Explicit bias is obvious. For example, overt racism and prejudice. It’s harmful, but easier to spot. Unconscious bias is more insidious and pervasive, because people don’t recognize it. Training in this topic can help stamp out harmful stereotypes. Implicit bias training is mandatory in many states.

Health literacy: Improving understanding of health information in a context that makes sense for the patient and client.

Eliminating language barriers: Working with medical interpreters, providing language proficiency courses or working with bilingual staff.

Communication skills: Building on language skills to include wider ways of communication among all facets of the healthcare system, including patient, provider, insurance, and administration.

Note that one short course is just a beginning. Cultural competence in healthcare is a process and a way of operating. It pays off to expand your institution’s capacity in cultural competency and diversity. It improves health outcomes, builds community relations, and supports a stronger internal culture.

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How To Set Professional Learning Goals in Uncertain Times

Setting learning-based New Year’s resolutions is the best option for 2021.

By Eliana Ifill

Normally, the new year is an excellent time for eager goal-setting. It’s a chance to think about who we were, who we want to be, and what kinds of changes need to happen to get there.

But we’re all entering this new year more carefully than in the past. We’ve all learned that the best plans can change radically, and we’ve learned to be more flexible about modified plans, both at work and home.

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This year is still full of uncertainty, but making a learning plan might be one of the most solid kinds of resolutions you can make right now. A professional development plan for you or your team at the least requires only reflection, and at the most, taking some online courses just as easily taken from home as at work. Plus, there are more online training options now than ever before.

Motivate Yourself for a New Year Training Plan

You might be tempted to say, “Why bother?” but remember this boon in training resources and your own ability to reflect as you think about where you or your team should be by time the next year rolls around.

Aspects like bureaucracy, unclear scopes of practice, and the complicated nature of healthcare–especially for marginalized communities–leave many healthcare agencies feeling overloaded and like it’s hard too to set professional development and learning goals.

That kind of attitude is understandable, but these activities haven’t been canceled. Your career or your team’s career will keep going on. Setting professional goals is the best way to build skills for the job you have or you want your team to have and start to gain experience for advancing on a career path.

Research Required Training

The first step in setting a training goal for yourself as a supervisor or manager is to find out what’s required. You might need to complete regular training in topics like sexual harassment or unconscious bias.

If you have your own eye on a job along the career ladder, find out what you need before you can climb it.

When you’re planning training for your staff, also find out what’s required for their position and make sure you make it easy for them to complete.

Then, build on to that solid base with specialized training that fits the needs of your community or what you want to do. Set meetings with your staff regularly to review these goals, maybe every three months or twice a year, to discuss these options and offer support.

Continuous education and training will help you benefit your career and also help the people who work with you. Read on for more ideas about setting defining training goals for your employees, and also review what a training needs analysis requires.

5 Things To Keep in Mind When Helping Your Staff Set Learning Goals

1. Identify what areas in your community need the most support.

2. Find out certificates or training your state requires for staff positions.

3. Work with each team member to find out their professional goals.

4. Set a system for measuring learning goals.

5. Provide constructive feedback and support. 

1.     Identify what areas in your community need the most support.

Many public health departments work closely with underserved communities and families with little to no access to basic health care. Your agency has the opportunity to address the unique challenges your community is facing and help people living there to overcome these barriers.

When setting staff learning goals regarding community needs, keep in mind:

  • medical conditions of clients who most need it, such as those who access the ER often
  • requirements of your employer or certifying bodies
  • specific needs of those in your community, such as through a community health needs assessment.

This will tell you something about needs surrounding chronic illnesses that’s are problem where you live, such as diabetes or heart disease. Or it might reveal a need for more general skills such as advocacy, help navigating health insurance, transportation, or language services.

2.     Find out certificates or training your state requires for staff positions.

Your agency’s HR department likely has information about specific certification required in an employee’s job. Start there. But also look at requirements that would empower your staff to do more and make it easier to hire from within.

3.    Work with each team member to find out their professional goals.

Some good employees never consider their job as a long-term career or a steppingstone within your organization. If you find out what your staff’s professional goals are early on, you can help them, build loyalty, and improve engagement along the way.

4.     Set a system for measuring learning goals.

Once you’ve worked with your staff to more or less define their career aspirations, it’s time to clearly outline those goals and create an action plan.

For goal setting, you can use a system like SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based (or time-bound).

An example of a SMART learning goal is:

Contact my local authority to request the certification requirements before registration for the Core Competencies course closes for this quarter.

5. Provide constructive feedback and support.

Many workforce members complete training successfully, but then they are at a loss about using their new skills. This requires opportunity and feedback from you. Create a culture in your staff that encourages honest and open feedback. This can feel awkward, but it’s essential to build in this kind of feedback regularly to earn a solid ROI on your training and staff investment.

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How To Make Training Investments Really Pay Off

Most agencies think training is important for their employees—but many think it applies only to onboarding. You may find where you work that after the first few months of someone’s employment (or volunteer position), training tapers off. Daily tasks start to seem more important than training investments.

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Not so. Agencies like yours have many reasons to keep up on professional development opportunities through the entire duration of a person’s employment.

Train your staff the whole time they’re employed.

Training your staff throughout the year, and throughout their employ is an investment that will pay off. Here are three compelling reasons:

  1. It’s what employees want. Investment in training is one of the top reasons workers apply to organizations. If you making it clear you’ll offer these professional development opportunities in job ads and through the interviewing process, you’ll get more applicants who are dedicated and come ready to offer their new skills.
  2. It sparks motivation. Learning new skills can keep employees engaged and dedicated to their jobs. It really helps if you can merge training with staff learning goals.
  3. It creates qualified employees If you invest in training for your existing staff, you can hire and promote from within. Hiring processes are expensive and time-consuming. Tapping into current talent is a shortcut that can pay off, and if you know the employee, you also have an idea of their work ethic and dedication.

Let your staff use their new skills.

We recently conducted a survey of a professional development course we offered. The results were positive:

  • 70% said the course gave them the tools they directly needed for work
  • 90% said they had significantly increased competence in the topic
  • one person said they used the course to kick-start a syringe exchange program in their community

Exactly the kinds of results we love to see.

But when we asked how much importance learners’ managers placed on the skills and concepts they picked up, the results were less encouraging. More than a third said their managers did little to let them use their new skills.

Uh oh.

Investing in training for your health staff is a smart move. It sets employers to have loyal, motivated workers who can do more on the job. Companies that invest $1500 or more for training, per employee per year, average 24 percent higher profits than companies with lower yearly training investments, according to HR Magazine. These figures are proof that training serves the organization well and increases the health of the community.

While many employers recognize the value of investing in training, too many neglect this second step. They have to let people use what they’ve learned. Health worker training is of little use when that education ends with the last day of class.

Here’s the secret to making sure investments in training pay off: make it easy for employees to learn, make it easy for them to share that knowledge, and set you and your staff up for success.

Review your organizational goals before you register anyone in training. Your staff may love a course on creating walkable neighborhoods, but it doesn’t matter if your program’s focus is on oral health. (Read 11 Things To Know About Setting Training Program Goals.)

When employees are done with a new training program, ask them to suggest new programs or improvements for existing ones based on their experience. Refer to earlier example of the syringe exchange program, which originated in a course forum discussion between two people at opposite sides of the country.

Ask participants to share the knowledge they just learned. Ask them to prepare a presentation to give to the rest of the care team, or have them summarize some of the most salient resources in an email to your whole organization.

Repeat with every person at every educational opportunity.

Start now by thinking about your training programs as part of your company culture and strategic plan. Continue to evolve the program to keep up with best practices, changes in clinical guidelines, or outside research like community health needs assessments.

Originally published May 16, 2016, updated January 04, 2021

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Women’s Health and COVID-19

By Eliana Ifill

Healthcare has a gender bias problem. Women are less likely than men to get the right kind of treatment, to have their illnesses correctly diagnosed, and to be included in important clinical research.

Men and women are biologically different and have unique healthcare needs, including in obvious areas like reproductive care or breast cancer screening, and also extending beyond.

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Healthcare should be all about keeping people alive and healthy, right? It needs to conform to people no matter what their gender is and if they’re in the LGBTQ+ community. (For the record, men get ignored in areas of healthcare too, especially with mental health.)

If it doesn’t, healthcare leaves wide gaps that lead to worse health outcomes for women. Those gaps grow even wider among minority women and those in underserved and rural communities.

Some troubling facts:

  • On average, black women in the US are 2 to 6 times more likely to die during childbirth than white women,
  • 17% of women of color in the US have no health insurance, compared to white women’s 8%, according to this study,
  • And an estimated 44% of transgender women suffer from clinical depression, compared to 5.5% in the overall population of women.

Women’s Health and COVID-19

Now, with a global pandemic, reproductive health has receded even further into the background.

“As state governors responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, they affected reproductive care in a myriad of ways. Governors issued orders to protect access to health care, preserve supplies of protective equipment, and reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus. In some states, these orders protected reproductive health care, while in others, governors used the pandemic as an excuse to restrict this care,” according to the Guttmacher Institute.

10 Ways Your Agency Can Help Women

You and your team have the unique opportunity to educate, inform, and provide support to the women in the communities they serve, effectively knocking down and helping the population access the preventive and health care services that can often be life-saving.

Start here:

Top 10 Women’s Health Issues

  • Breast Cancer
  • Gynecological Cancer
  • Reproductive Health
  • Maternal Health
  • Heart Disease
  • Mental Health
  • STDs, STIs, and HIV
  • Violence Against Women
  • Transgender
  • Age

For more information, check out the Improving Women’s Health resource guide for an understanding of why and how to close the health gaps.

5 Ways to Improve Communication in Training

Best practices for communicating better with learners and staff in online courses.

Imagine being a patient and meeting with a healthcare provider for the first time. Your consultation might be rushed, you’re unfamiliar and by the environment, and the language new and confusing.

If that provider doesn’t have the best communication skills, it can add up to an unrewarding experience.

Recommended Reading: How To Make Your Online Training Less Intimidating

That confusion is what many people feel when they take an online course. Online learners, just like patients in a doctor’s office, need good communication for a positive experience.

If you’re an administrator or facilitator for an online training program, think about how to communicate with your readers in a way that connects, informs, and extends the learning experience.

Communicating with online learners—through such channels as announcements, emails, texts or forums—is especially important because you can’t use the power of nonverbal communication. Normally, you can use the tone of your voice or facial expressions to reinforce your meaning. But when the only way you have to connect is with words, you’ll have to give extra thought to how to connect.

Sometimes, the people in charge of enrolling and disenrolling people into a course, for example HR representatives or program managers, might not think communication is part of the job. They’re wrong!

Clear communication should be part of your overall training strategy, even if you didn’t create the curriculum yourself. Any exchange you have with your learners should support what they’re learning and make it easier for them to understand content.

Here are five ways you can improve your communication skills to connect better in online courses.

5 Ways To Communicate Better in Online Courses

1. Use Announcements Effectively

The Announcements feature of an online learning management system (LMS) is a central part of any online course. Announcements are the primary way you can establish your presence.

They provide the clear communication students need when they go into a classroom. They let you connect with participants, lead the group, and set the tone for what they’re about to learn.

Announcements lets you post messages to learners and staff who are enrolled in your course. Depending on how you use them, you can also set announcements to be delivered directly to learners through email or RSS.

An announcement is often the first thing someone sees when they log into a classroom. Because they’re the first thing that anyone sees, announcements should be useful.

Here’s a simple example of a reminder to complete course evaluations:

You can also use announcements to build rapport and increase course engagement. This example shows the instructor’s personality and also creates a connection with each learner and the group.

2. Avoid Acronyms and Jargon

Any training curriculum can be full of specific jargon and acronyms—especially healthcare. The glossary is the place for those—not in general communication. Assume your students are there to learn, so make sure you spell out phrases and skip buzzwords.

3. Communicate Often—but Not Too Much

While some course managers neglect communication tools, others over-communicate. Checking in too often or leaving too much text can have the counterintuitive effect of making learners check out. They’ll learn to ignore overly frequent messages or glaze over when looking at a wall of text.

Consider if the medium for the message. Is the Announcements feature the best place for it? Should you be writing an email to an individual or a team? Should you post something in the forum to increase peer learning and interaction?

4. Use Meaningful Imagery

Written communication is essential, but an image can get your idea across in an instant. It’s human nature to notice a graphic, especially among a string of text (we’re betting you saw the picture above).

Knowing that and using imagery strategically can help you increase communication and understanding in an online course.

Before you start adding images in your announcements or emails, ask yourself if they’re really adding to the communication. Here are some questions you can ask yourself before you add something to your course:

  1. Does the image help communicate something important in the curriculum or content?
  2. Are there too many images?
  3. Does the image make sense in the context?

5. Plan Your Communication

It’s a good idea to plan out your communication in a course just as carefully as an editor plans articles in a newspaper. It will help you stay on schedule, think clearly about what you’re communicating, and do the work up front.

For example, you could always post a wrap-up message on Thursday afternoons. You might always send an email with a link to the gradebook on Monday mornings.

If your LMS has a date release tool, such as Talance’s Schedule Course Mail, you can write all your announcements or emails up front, set the dates when they’re to be delivered, and then let them go automatically in time with the training session.

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17 Questions to Ask in a Training Needs Assessment

Performing a training needs assessment of your public health workforce is an important first step in creating an online training initiative. It’s essential for creating the kinds of professional development opportunities that will improve the knowledge, competence, and effectiveness of your staff.

Before you do anything to train your staff, find out what your stakeholders need from a program and what your employees need to learn. This will help you create a program that has a greater chance of success.

Training Needs Assessment Tips

Too many programs either skip the step of performing a needs assessment (read more on the important step of performing a needs analysis), or they make mistakes when doing one. Such messiness could set the tone for your entire program. It will leave you with participants who spend more time looking at their phones than engaging with learning content. Even worse than unsatisfied students is wasted funds.

One common mistake is looking too narrowly at your organization when documenting needs. For example, some administrators know they need to address a knowledge gap because of compliance requirements or industry guidelines. But they forget to consider if they have enough qualified trainers to handle a new online program. They assume that uploading a PDF to the website will be enough to train all their staff. Looking at only one piece of the puzzle will solve exactly one piece.

When employers start planning for an online training program, they should minimally start by looking at what their students need, what their organization needs, and what kind of technology needs. Likely, your organization will have more factors you’ll need to assess.

Your Capacity for Needs Assessments

Training a public health workforce is complex. Needs and wants of the entire agency is confusing. But you might already know how to do this.

Many programs have internal capacity for needs assessments that they forget they already know. Many public health programs, for example, are required to perform community needs assessments. If this is you, you’re already used to finding out what kinds of strategies can make positive health improvement in a community.

You can think about the skills you already have and instead of focusing them on external community members, turn them around to your own staff.

To provide some value to your initiative, we’re suggesting some questions you can ask to get the most from your new training program.

Questions to Ask in a Training Needs Assessment

Find out what your employees need to learn new skills.

Assess what your learners need to know. You might have internal requirements, such as yearly sexual harassment training, or a need for continuing education credits to keep certifications up to date. Or you may have results-based needs, such as finding a way for employees to serve more clients in a shorter amount of time. Looking at gaps in learning will help you identify how to address them.

You can ask your students what they want to learn, but proceed down this road with caution. Sometimes, they don’t know what they need and lack the terminology to tell you, or have very little experience with (or love of) online learning.

Your job is to discover their core needs quickly and succinctly. Here are a few questions to begin with:

  1. On a scale of one to 10, how do you feel about your skill level related to your job?
  2. Why did you give yourself that score?
  3. Do you feel that you can handle your current scope of work?

Determine gaps in your infrastructure.

Assume you’ve identified what your audience needs to learn, and then back up and see what weaknesses you see in your infrastructure to make that happen. For example, you might need to hire a new fleet of trainers with skills in online teaching strategies. Or, your grant has reporting requirements, and you’ll need evaluation tools to address them. You can group stakeholders with your infrastructure, because they will also have requirements you’ll need to address, such as the ability to become self-supporting with your new courses.

Try questions like these:

  1. What are the skills necessary for this program to succeed?
  2. How many staff members have the skills necessary for this program to succeed?
  3. What hiring needs does our program have now?
  4. What hiring needs will out program need in the next month/quarter/year?
  5. Is there a process for identifying future training and professional development of the workforce?
  6. What could prevent the project team from learning these skills?
  7. What barriers could prevent this program from succeeding, past, present, and future?

Consider access requirements for training.

Knowing what your needs are for learning and for your infrastructure will help greatly when you analyze what kind of delivery mechanism will work best for your agency. Then you can begin to decide if you need self-paced learning, will offer courses with instruction, are looking to build a blended-learning program, what kind of data you need, etc. When you have a list of digital tools and features you need, you can measure them against providers and vendors that can help address those.

Here are some questions to help with access requirements:

  1. Does training need to be done in person?
  2. Can training be done remotely?
  3. How soon does training need to be completed?
  4. What internal training resources already exist?
  5. What content formats work best with employees?
  6. What about learner backgrounds needs to be taken into account, for example language requirements?
  7. Can employees move through the training at their own pace?

Remember that a needs assessment is just the beginning. Look at it as the launching point for a deep investigation into what it will take for your program to succeed. Jumping into something for the sake of it might seem like the fast solution, but you’ll be glad you took the time to look deeply into your requirements before you begin building.

This post was updated December 12, 2020. It originally appeared May 30. 2014

Autism: New Course Helps Underserved Families in Washington

The number of children who have been diagnosed with Autism has increased sharply in recent years—at least for some children.

White children in the U.S. are tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a part of regular care. This means they can be diagnosed earlier and go down a road for intervention and services that tremendously helps both them and their families reach their fullest potential.

Hispanic or Latino and Black children, on the other hand, are less likely to be diagnosed with ASD than white kids. Hispanic children are 65% less likely to be diagnosed, and Black children 19% less likely, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

A new project from the Washington State Department of Health aims to reduce those disparities and add support to vulnerable families in the state. They plan to use the help of community health workers (CHWs) through an online course called Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

“This project is really exciting! It gives CHWs a better understanding of what autism is and helps them build their network of resources to share with families going through diagnosis and afterwards. That will be fundamental in helping families in Washington State,” says Nikki Dyer, Family Engagement Coordinator in the office of Prevention and Community Health at the Washington State Department of Health.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder was built by online training agency Talance, Inc., and is offered for no cost as part of Washington’s Community Health Worker Training Program. More than 2000 people from around the state have participated in the 10-week online blended learning program. It is designed to strengthen the common skills, knowledge, and abilities of community health workers. Past participants are eligible to enroll in any of the free Continuing Education Health Specific Modules, including Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder “lets CHWs get a grasp of what kind of resources they have locally around diagnosis, referral, and how to navigate a family,” says Dyer. It also exposes CHWs to services for kids with Autism who have already been diagnosed through to transitioning to adulthood services.

“Transition’s a huge issue that has been largely unexplored and leaves a big gap for autistic youth and their families when making that leap to adult services,” Dyer says.

Early Autism Diagnosis

One of the main goals of the course is to encourage earlier and more equitable access to diagnosis. This is especially important for families who face health disparities because of race, ethnicity, and cultural needs.

“Pre-diagnosis is a chaotic time in a family’s life,” says Dyer.

Families might:

  • Not be able to recognize the early signs.
  • Feel confused and isolated when their child is diagnosed with ASD and immediately after.
  • Suspect their child has autism but wait to get a diagnosis. Or, they may feel too overwhelmed by the reality of the diagnosis to know where to find services and supports.

Diagnosing ASD early can help families cope. Early interventions are also critically important to helping children with ASD develop social skills and improve their quality of life.

“Early diagnosis provides the best possibility to be proactive and provide the child with services to reach their fullest potential development,” says Dyer.

Health Disparities and ASD

Here’s where many Black and Hispanic or Latino families are left behind. If their children are never diagnosed, or diagnosed later in life, they miss out on these important support mechanisms and adjustments to help families and youth. Outreach campaigns to have all children screened for ASD can catch some of the people who fall through.

The number of white children diagnosed with ASD compared to Black and Hispanic children is much higher. Source: CDC.

Some communities have a cultural stigma or other expectations of childhood development. That can prevent early diagnosis and put a stop to families seeking a diagnosis even when their provider or child’s teacher may encourage it.

Working Across Washington

Dyer and her colleagues in the Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs program knew of the challenges of supporting families in Washington.

“They turned their eyes toward CHWs and began investigating collaborative opportunities with the Department of Health’s CHW Training Program for developing training resources,” says Scott Carlson, Community Health Worker Training System Supervisor at the Washington State Department of Health.

CHWs work in the homes of families all around the state, and—importantly–in the most underserved areas. With the right kind of training, CHWs can make referrals to ASD specialists and provide other resources.

Family Navigators and Community Health Workers

“Family navigators” are healthcare workers who regularly support families with an ASD diagnosis. But—like CHWs—they don’t have a clear definition. It’s a catch-all term for someone who provides families with extra care coordination. There are no training requirements or standard services provided by family navigators.

The upshot: CHWs can be family navigators. They can use the skills provided through the Washington CHW program and through this training to serve families in a culturally and linguistically competent and relevant way.

“We would like to promote the CHW program by creating this course and making it open to partners who are doing peer mentoring and navigation for people with special health care needs, even if they are not trained CHWs,” says Dyer.

Doing so opens up employment possibilities for participants who want to be CHWs but might not know about the number of available jobs labeled as “family navigation.”

“We would also like to promote the program as a whole and encourage our partners who may receive access to this module without being a CHW to take the initial training in those basic skills.”

CHW Family Navigation Skills

People who participate in Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder will gain skills that support families in many areas, including:

  • Understanding what ASD is and its stages of severity
  • Advocating for early testing and diagnosis through referring clients and providers
  • Care coordination for connecting families to needed services, supports, and therapies. This is the case even outside of the healthcare field, specifically through a customized resource directory

So far, learner feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the course. In a survey, 92% found it interesting and easy to follow. Another 95% were able to find ASD resources that were local and relevant to their jobs.

“This information will be applied immediately,” says Najja Brown, who recently completed the training. Brown works with ASD clients as part of her work through DSHS/DDA. “We will understand our clients better, be able to recommend resources/support groups, and make appropriate suggestions based on the information learned. We will also use the proper language when references to ASD.

“I know so much more than before. When I resume providing services, I will have a better understanding of my clients, whom are all ASD.”

Additional Training

Anyone interested in taking Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder can learn more at Washington’s Community Health Worker Training website.

Dyer suggests participating in these courses as a “Family Navigation track”:

  • Providing Social Support
  • Immunizations Across the Lifespan
  • Navigating Health Insurance
  • Health Advocacy
  • Social Determinants of Health & Disparities
  • Depression, Anxiety, & Stress

How to Write Survey Quiz Questions: A Guide

By Gabrielle Carrero
Feedback is one of the best ways you can enhance your program, whether it’s an assessment in a training program or a survey aimed at your community members as part of user research.

When you ask your learners to complete a survey or assessment, you can learn the opinions, perspectives, and judgements of your practices and programs directly from the people who use them.

You should have clear objectives of what you want to learn from participants before deciding what types of questions you want to use. When you can define those goals, you can begin to choose what types of questions will yield appropriate data.

This article will introduce you to the most common types of questions used in assessments and surveys and help you decide which will get you the feedback you want. We’ve included examples and suggestions to help you create your own.

Types of questions

In the question hierarchy, there are two types:

  1. Close-ended questions that produce quantitative data. These can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or have a limited set of answers, as in a multiple-choice quiz.
  2. Open-ended questions that produce qualitative data. These allow someone to give freeform responses, usually in a sentence, paragraph, or longer.

Open-ended questions are helpful when you don’t want to influence the kind of response you’re looking to collect. You might use these when doing research into a community’s needs or asking for suggestions.

When testing learners in assessments, prioritize close-ended survey questions. They produce the most manageable results. You will also learn where open-ended questions fit in the design of your survey.

Close-ended survey questions

Close-ended survey questions provide a fixed set of options. Data from close-ended questions is quantitative and can be calculated into figures like percentages, statistics, or scores.

Common close-ended questions include:

  • multiple-choice questions
  • rating scale questions
  • Likert scale questions
  • semantic differential questions
  • ranking questions
  • dichotomous questions

Read on for more information about each type of question and examples.

Multiple-choice questions

Multiple-choice questions are questions with a pool of answers. They produce clean data for you to analyze and are easiest for participants to complete. Here’s an example from a behavioral health course:

When creating multiple-choice questions, it is important to create a direct and simple question with a comprehensive set of answers. Do your best to create answers that cover all options but do not overlap with one another.

One way to avoid biased results and limitations in your answer set is to give the respondent an “Other” option. Although adding an option for “Other” may not allow the data to be as neat, participants can offer a perspective you have not considered.

Another consideration to make when developing multiple-choice questions is to decide whether you want a single answer or allow multiple answers.

Multiple choice = only one correct option

Multiple answer = more than one correct option

Use single-answer questions when you want the respondent to make one choice. You may only want a single-answer because you want the participant to make a decision or because there is only one answer to choose like age. In general, multiple-choice questions are effective for collecting demographic information.

Use multiple-answer questions when you want participants to select all answers that apply. For instance, participants can select more than one service or product they use.

The example above could be rephrased as a multiple-answer question this way:

Choose all of the examples of items that can make someone more at risk of a behavioral health disorder.

Rating scales

Rating scale questions allow participants to rate or assign weight to an answer choice. Use rating scale questions when you want to learn what a respondent thinks or feels across a scale.

An example of this is a confidence scale about health self-management:

Source: Howsyourhealth.org

When using a rating scale question, you are asking the respondent to measure where their response lies a scale like 0 to 10, 1 to 5, or 0 to 100. You might ask the participant to rate their happiness, satisfaction, likeliness to do something, and experience with your organization.

Rating scale questions can be an effective tool to evaluate change, growth, or progress over time.

For example, if you utilize them as an assessment tool at the beginning of a new program, you can use the same question later or at a final stage of a program to measure changes in sentiment among participants.

When designing the rating scale question, the scale must clearly label the difference in relationship between the numbers.  If you choose a rating scale between 0 and 10, what will 0 represent and what will 10 represent?

Likert scales

A Likert scale measures a participant’s agreement with a question or statement. They are useful for measuring attitudes and behaviors because they ask the respondent to select how much they agree or disagree.

Here’s an example from a quantitative patient survey:

A Likert scale question is a type of rating scale question, but it specifically labels each answer with a level of agreement or likelihood from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” or “not at all likely” to “highly likely.”

Use Likert scale questions to measure participant attitudes, opinions, and beliefs and use the 5- or 7-point scale with clear labels.

Semantic differential questions

A semantic differential question is another tool for rating and understanding opinion and attitudes. It asks participants to rate something on a scale between two opposing statements, and emphasizes two opposite adjectives at each end.

You see these questions in customer satisfaction surveys, as in the Net Promoter Score:

Semantic differential questions help you gather multiple impressions about one subject area.

For instance, you would define polar opposite statements like strong-weak, love-hate, exceptional-terrible, expensive-cheap, likely to return-unlikely to return, or satisfied-unsatisfied and include multi-point options in between.

You can acquire multiple attitudes about a service like “What is your impression of Service A?” and have options rate between “Hard to Use” to “Easy to Use,” “Weak” to “Strong,” and “Cheap” to “High Quality,” all to learn more about Service A.

Use semantic differential questions when you want to collect many opinions in one question.

Ranking

Ranking questions lets participants compare list items with another and assign an order of preference to them.

Ranking question data will show the level of priority or importance multiple items has to them, but will not offer insight into “why.”

If you want to look closely at individual respondent preference, then a ranking question is appropriate because it shows the relationship of how much they prefer one option to another. This can be more difficult when analyzing large sets of data because instead of learning how much more an item is preferred to another, the data would offer insight into what item is generally preferred.

Use ranking scale questions to learn what your participant values and prioritizes most.

Dichotomous questions

Dichotomous survey questions gives respondents two answers to choose from such as Yes/No and True/False.

These questions are simple and quick for respondents to answer, and they offer you clean data to analyze. The weakness of dichotomous questions is there is no room for preference, and leaves you little to interpret.

Use a dichotomous question if you want a participant to make a strict decision.

Open-ended questions

Instead of giving participants a set of answers to choose from, open-ended questions allow participants to respond in their own words in a text box. We use these in evaluation surveys often.

The data from open-ended questions is qualitative and less focused on measurement.

Open-ended question responses offer insight into learner impressions, opinions, motivations, challenges, and attitudes. They do take a level of interpretation on your end, and it may help to put their answer in context with any information provided about themselves and their other survey selections.

Although open-ended questions and qualitative data require more attention, they can fill gaps in the story of what your survey wants to learn. You can pair an open-ended question with a close-ended question to understand more about their decision: “What is the reason for your selection/score/ranking?” You may also include them independently: “How do you think you can improve as a business?”

The general advice is to use open-ended questions sparingly and strategically.

Like creating any kind of educational or survey content, coming up with effective and clear assessments takes practice. Great training content is always a work in progress.