Health Service Focus

01.10.15

Old to gold: the lucrative revolution of gamified e-learning

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 15

NHE’s Luana Salles looks into a new breed of e-learning and how it can help NHS staff.

There is a widespread digital push going on across the NHS. Those present at the recent NHS England Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester could attest to the resounding event-wide effort to bring the state service into the 21st century, either by promoting paperless systems, financing Innovation Accelerator projects or supporting Jeremy Hunt’s ambition to digitise all patient records. 

This approach is now extending to all aspects of healthcare to both increase service accessibility and slash existing deficits nationwide. And as John Rogers, chief executive of Skills for Health, told us back in our May/June edition, it’s not hard to see the appeal of e-learning as exactly that: a cost-effective solution set to make the lives of pressured staff and HR management teams easier, whilst also dramatically cutting down on travel and agency costs.

But while e-learning is becoming increasingly popular as trusts adopt and promote this method as a more effective way of keeping staff informed of continuous legislative changes, employees themselves may often fall back on traditional face-to-face training. While this is driven by a range of motives, a common one is an aversion to the often-uninspiring methods of online module delivery. Realistically speaking, digital training in itself no longer screams ‘modern’: the time has come for trusts to do more to revolutionise their services. 

Pushing the digital experience beyond the basics 

Southern Health NHS FT, an 8,000-staff organisation based in Southampton, sought to tackle this aversion to current e-learning layouts by redeveloping its suite of online modules through a new partnership with award-winning specialist company Sponge UK. They targeted the 13 most requested statutory and mandatory topics to be radically reformatted in order to engage more staff from community, mental health, disability and social care teams across over 200 sites. 

Bobby MothThis was mostly stimulated by figures that spoke for themselves: while there were already 37,000 online passes – or classroom attendances – in 2014-15 for statutory and mandatory modules, 22,000 passes were still conducted face-to-face. Of these, 7,500 passes were for the topics being redesigned in the Sponge collaboration. Bobby Moth, associate director for education and development at the trust, told NHE that if the trust managed to convert just half of those 7,500 face-to-face passes into digital passes, it would save around £331,000 – calculated in terms of time given back to frontline care and cash saved by avoiding mileage claims and agency backfill. 

Moth stressed that face-to-face training can be a significant drain on frontline services, as staff often need to book an entire day off work to accommodate travelling to and from training sessions. Considering all staff have to undertake training every year, usually more than once – particularly for mandatory emergency topics – this would release an impressive amount of time back into patient care. 

From mandatory to entertaining 

The new suite of modules, set to roll out towards the end of September, provides a gamified take on the traditional e-learning already available across the NHS, with interactive features incorporating clickable videos and workplace scenarios to make the experience as engaging as possible for staff. All modules were informed by findings from extensive consultation with relevant senior employees to determine what each particular job entails, which in turn fed into the scripts already enforced by the NHS Litigation Authority, the CQC and internal trust policies. The suite will contain topics spanning health and safety, fire safety, customer care, information governance, equality and diversity, safeguarding, infection prevention, manual handling, and slips, trips and falls. 

The trust is also thought to be one of the first of its kind to offer e-learning on the receipt and scrutiny of statutory forms under the Mental Health Act. This module, which had not been previously available in the provider’s older format of digital training, was designed with a user-friendly framework to facilitate the delivery and retention of complex details. As with all other topics, information is routinely updated with the newest legislation and offers 24-hour accessibility to all staff who wish to tailor training to their specific schedules or revisit completed modules as a refresher solution. 

Business director Stuart Harris told us: “We did it because, as far as we could see, it didn’t exist in the format or quality that we wanted. There is already e-learning – you can take fire safety online, for example – but is there one quite as fun?” 

Sponge’s managing director, Louise Pasterfield, added that the gamification techniques were based on e-learning tools called Storyline and Storyline 2, both of which provide a cheaper solution to traditionally expensive and time-consuming programming. The modules, which are all currently at different stages of production, are bespoke to suit the individual training minutiae of each subject. One of the topics, for example, presents a cartoon-style kitchen scene where staff must identify all health and safety hazards and explain what they could do to prevent them. Another reflects an entirely different concept, where the staff member doubles as a nurse running up and down a corridor against the clock in an attempt to evacuate all patients before the fire door shuts. 

Pasterfield added that it is imperative for e-learning modules to be self-contained so that staff can comfortably go through them during their break or lunch hour. And while some modules must still be conducted face-to-face, such as basic life support, she guaranteed most content can be contained and translated into e-learning. “The trick really is to make sure that it can be a stand-alone piece,” she said.

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Customisation to suit every worker – and every provider

The flexibility of the gamified approach also allows staff to complete the module at their own pace, which could in turn help attract more senior staff who may be reluctant to ‘give in’ to the digital experience. As Moth told us, some staff took five to 10 minutes to complete a module during the trialling of one of the topics, while others took upwards of half an hour. In fact, the only constant during the trial period was the widespread approval for the new suite, with staff at all levels reporting back to the trust’s chief executive and directors to say the new design helped accommodate their specific shift patterns. 

Similarly, these directors sang their praises back to the suite’s commissioners – comprised of Moth, Harris, Sharon Gomez (essential training lead), and Vicki Tinkler (learning and development compliance officer) – saying they could actually remember the suite’s content even in the weeks following trials. Moth assured me that this was due to the elements of fun and interactivity incorporated into the traditionally tedious experience of training. 

Harris reiterated that this was one of the many benefits of migrating people from face-to-face to online module passes. “By virtue of the new style and clever design, you are delivering an individualised learning experience in a fraction of the time that you could in a classroom environment. Irrespective of where this is happening, you are looking to collapse the time in which it takes to acquire the required knowledge,” he added. 

But differently from a classroom, every staff member undertaking training will have the opportunity to consult individually with subject matter experts in conference-type calls – ensuring every doubt in relation to legislation contained in modules is cleared up. Additionally, those using e-learning will naturally be tested more than they would in a one-off classroom situation, which is expected to increase the breadth of their knowledge on every statutory and mandatory topic on offer. 

The bespoke modules have also been designed to meet the specific needs of the strongly community-based trust. Harris told me: “We have taken the opportunity to look at every learning outcome and make it specific for our type of trust. We’re a community and mental health trust, we’re not a hospital. We see a lot of modules designed to talk about ambulances rushing up with very sick patients, but our thousands of patients aren’t typically that. They’re walking into a community setting or being visited by our care team, and it’s a completely different approach – almost a different business. Hopefully, we’ll wind up with something that is tailored to our needs.” 

But while the suite has been programmed to fit the Southern Health bill, Harris reiterated that he is eager to speak to any other trust or provider interested in implementing a similar approach. “We’ll happily look to share what we’re doing with other trusts or people in the wider healthcare economy, because we think it’s good work,” he said. “If they want to have a taster and a demo of our e-learning topics and stay in touch with us, we would really welcome that. If they think it’s as good as we think it is, and that it’s an improvement on what they’re already doing, then let’s roll it out. Let’s get it out there.”

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