Use self-learning modules for busy employees

There are few minutes to spare in home care these days. Education managers often find it difficult to get aides and nurses together for an inservice. Yet aides still need to earn continuing education credits and update their skills. Clearly, an inservice alternative is needed.

Miami, OK-based Integris Health and Regency Home Care and Grove, OK-based Trinity Lifecare have found a solution to the time crunch. The agencies have self-learning modules in which aides and other employees learn when it's most convenient for them.

"I think as educators we need to be more creative in our strategies," says Marianne McBrien, RN, education coordinator for Integris Health and Regency Home Care, a hospital-based agency that serves Northeastern Oklahoma and Southwestern Missouri.

"We even have some cassette tapes that you can listen to in your car while you drive," McBrien says.

Modules are developed as need arises

Self-learning modules also are useful when certain employees need remedial education or when a particular employee has an interest in a disease or topic that isn't relevant to the entire staff. For example, one aide's patient might have Lou Gehrig's disease, so the aide would like to know more about that, she notes.

McBrien created some of the learning modules based on conferences she has attended, handouts she has received, and magazine or newsletter articles. Some of the learning modules consist of materials the agency has purchased from publishers.

Staff sign a sheet when they complete a module. They also fill out an evaluation, which may include a test or a summary of what they have learned.

McBrien uses a catalog system and inservice tracking system, all in three-ring binders, to store the modules. Videos are placed inside a protective sleeve. Modules have lists of written objectives and learning assignments, as well as post-tests.

One video on congestive heart failure (CHF) shows a patient having an acute episode of CHF. McBrien has nurses look at the video and document the patient's condition. Then McBrien assesses their documentation.

McBrien adds new modules based on needs that arise within the agency, such as a patient with a condition the staff are unfamiliar with, a new piece of equipment, or a new procedure or organizational change.

Then McBrien develops learning objectives. For example, if she were writing objectives for a self-learning module on critical thinking, she would come up with some objectives for what she'd like staff to learn based on a definition of critical thinking. Next, McBrien would find or write some critical thinking scenarios for employees to work through. Finally, she'd create an evaluation and then give feedback to the employee.

Make learning interactive and fun

The agency's self-learning modules include:

    · grief;

    · pain management;

    · nutrition;

    · geriatric assessment;

    · cultural diversity;

    · CHF.

The key to these modules is to make them as interactive as possible, McBrien says. "Don't just have staff read a magazine," she advises. "You want some sort of accountability tied to it, whether it's a fill-in-the-blank as you go through a worksheet or a scenario where you use deductive reasoning or a documentation exercise."

McBrien estimates that each 30-minute self-learning module takes about three hours to devel op. Development might include using computer graphics to jazz up the written materials, she says.

The modules might be topics an education manager wants everyone on staff to learn within a week's time. In that case, materials can be photocopied and passed out to everyone at one time, she suggests.

"I recently sent out something on nutrition and wound healing to every employee," McBrien says. "It had definitions of vitamins, minerals, and foods that meet normal body requirements and meet requirements for wound healing." She also included a post-test that had to be sent back to her.

During holiday seasons, McBrien often makes these modules even more interesting. For example, on Halloween last year, she gave each employee a diagram of a skeleton with a Snickers bar stapled to it. The sheet said, "Here's your trick or treat for the month." The staff had to label the diagram and spell the bones correctly. On Valentine's Day, she sent each employee a heart design and asked them to name the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. "It makes learning a little fun," she says.