The concept of medical professionals learning by doing is as old as medicine itself, but today technology is revolutionising the breadth of learning that can be undertaken in order to improve healthcare and safeguard patients’ lives. As the “National Strategy for E-Learning” makes clear, it is expected that E-Learning will become more widely used in the NHS and that learning will become more standardised across the UK. The “Four Pillars” of this strategy include a comprehensive, national learning management system; nationally commissioned E‐learning products; the adoption of new and emerging technologies and the identification and promotion of good practice. A new generation of online experiential learning solutions could help to deliver those objectives.
Experiential learning – how it differs
Experiential learning differs significantly from the role play typically included in traditional e-learning or classroom training. Online experiential learning interventions place the learner in a rich and authentic virtual environment that replicates every aspect of their job role and learning needs and allows interactions with real characters. In the healthcare sector, this includes organisational hierarchies and the presence and interaction of multi-agency and multi-disciplinary colleagues. Each scenario is designed to be believable, engaging and realistic, with the necessary information delivered through interactive conversations, emails, meetings and other interactions that replicate real world work practices.
Similarly, learners are expected to respond in a way that shows they have grasped the learning content and can apply it properly. Each decision has consequences, so the learner can experience ‘failure’ in a safe environment, whilst then being seamlessly and imperceptibly (to the learner) diverted back to re-learn key topics. Online experiential learning solutions can replicate the branding, buildings and interior décor of the organisation, but the key differential is that they are completely immersive and adaptive over an extended period of time, combining theory, practice and the reality of working in a healthcare setting.
Wider application in the healthcare environment
Experiential Learning tools can enable healthcare workers to develop skills in a virtual environment before they practice in the real world – or improve their real world practice in a virtual environment – helping to mitigate risk and prevent harm to real people. In real life, a doctor or nurse only has one chance to make a decision; in the virtual environment, they can practice making decisions over and over again until they reach the right conclusion. However, these solutions can achieve much more than just educating learners about the practical skills they need or the processes they must follow; they can also be used to embed behavioural competencies such as the ability to cope and communicate effectively in highly emotive situations. These are key objectives of an initiative we have developed in conjunction with Leeds Metropolitan University, to deliver immersive learning on the subject of child protection.
Leeds Metropolitan has developed this learning tool in direct response to the Munro Review and the Toolwire Learnscape addresses a number of issues referenced in that report. The University is keen to see this resource benefiting as many professionals involved in child protection as possible and will be offering it to other academic, professional and local authority bodies.
It is easy to see how these solutions could be used to help medical professionals learn how to work in the new structures that may result from the current NHS reforms. Experiential Learning can be used to make regular compliance training – on topics such as health and safety or infection control – much more engaging and compelling. In fact, organisations such as the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance are currently reviewing how this type of learning can help train their staff to manage and communicate in such a highly sensitive field as dementia care. Online immersive learning can recreate the type of challenging situations which often carers and professionals will not previously had exposure to. Giving staff the opportunity to practice their skills in a safe environment will help build confidence and competence, thus enhancing patient care and reducing risk.
In healthcare, where it is essential that learners finish the course, understand what they have learnt and know how to implement that learning in real life and online experiential learning provides a cost effective way of improving patient care, reducing risk and enhancing staff competency.