"Learning Shots" provide just-in-time education

Each is 7-15 minutes long

Research institutions often find one of the biggest educational challenges is finding times or forums that work for researchers and clinical trial staff.

Although electronic educational programs provide flexibility, there still is the problem with researchers finding enough time to visit the educational Web sites and using the Web site to receive institution-specific policy and guidance.

So one research institution has created a model that addresses these issues. It's called Learning Shots, which are brief, voiced-over, on-line educational segments that are specific to the institution.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, has developed this aspect of their continuing education model. The Learning Shots were started in May, 2007.

Learning Shots presentations provide IRB and post-approval monitoring information, says Sarah Blackman, an IRB education coordinator at the University of Virginia.

These targeted educational presentations range from four minutes to 17 minutes in length and cover a variety of topics. (See list of Learning Shot topics.)

Like most research educational programs, this one evolved before becoming Learning Shots.

"We decided early on that one thing we could do was post PowerPoint presentations on line," Blackman says.

"Everybody does that, but we didn't know if that was doing the best job we could be doing," she adds. "Also, we couldn't always bring people to a class every time we wanted to give them new information."

Both researchers and IRB members didn't have the time for regular inservice meetings.

"So we were struggling with finding a creative way to get information out to people when they needed it," Blackman says. "Our IRB staff had a brainstorming session and decided it would be interesting to take those PowerPoint presentations and provide a voice-over for them."

The point was to create something that could be viewed on-line and which would be specific to the University of Virginia, she adds.

Using software for the voice-over, they experimented with ways to develop content that was in direct response to a message or new information that the IRB wanted the research community to know, Blackman says.

"One Learning Shot responds to the confusion some researchers had about de-identifying data and HIPAA waivers," Blackman says.

"With some minimally-risky research, you're allowed a waiver," she explains. "The key to a successful protocol in those cases is to be able to store the data in a way that reflects what you said you'd do in the protocol."

The IRB office found that research staff had some commonly-held misunderstandings of what this meant, and often there was a disconnect between what the protocol said they would do and what they actually were doing, Blackman says.

"The purpose of this Learning Shot talk is to clarify those misunderstandings," she adds. "The purpose is not to be punitive, but to provide education that will help researchers be and stay compliant with their own research protocols."

This type of just-in-time education gives the research institution the flexibility of directly addressing issues raised during internal reviews, Blackman notes.

"If everyone is confused about something, then we'll create a presentation to share with them," she says. "We'll let them know what the issue is and advise them to visit the Learning Shot, which attempts to clarify the issue."

The Learning Shots do not have to replace inservices, but they add to the menu of options available to human subjects research staff, Blackman notes.

"The on-line sessions complement the in-person mentoring we offer in our school of medicine," she says. "The research team might watch the 11-minute Learning Shot on informed consent before the mentor arrives, if they know that's a topic they'll be discussing with the mentor."

This way, the on-line education prepares staff for more comprehensive educational sessions.

Learning Shots are a service to busy researchers who might need a little help on a targeted topic, Blackman says.

Also, as researchers fill out the new protocol application form, they will see references to the Learning Shots in the electronic protocol application, Blackman says.

"If they are confused about identified versus de-identified data, then they can follow a link right there, and they're connected with Learning Shots," she adds. "Also, there are tips for international research and a process for monitoring a protocol after it's approved."

The institution's IRB staff will send Learning Shots links to researchers whenever they feel a particular lesson might prove useful, Blackman says.

"We provide the Learning Shots free-of-charge, without password protection, and if people don't like it, they don't have to use it, or if something is incorrect, I want to know about it," Blackman says. "We try to do the best we can to provide education to researchers without asking them to give us an unreasonable amount of time in the classroom."

So far, the Learning Shots have been popular.

"We're always receiving suggestions for new topics, so we have a long list of Learning Shots topics we're trying to develop right now," Blackman adds.