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A lesson in distance learning.

New technologies allow employees to learn while they earn

A FAST-SHRINKING POOL OF EDUCATED, MOTIVATED WORKERS has created turmoil in the long term care industry as providers struggle to recruit and train workers to fill newly created positions or replace employees who have moved on. While "distance learning"--a situation where teacher and student are separated by space, and often, time--won't solve the problem of a tight labor market, it will help you keep your workforce well-trained and motivated.

Distance learning can be a videotape or CD ROM, an online course that your employees work through at their own pace, or an interactive, multimedia lesson that combines the Internet and CD ROM technology. Classes can either take place in "real time," with instructors and students meeting at an appointed hour via various media, or in asynchronous time, with students logging onto computers, at their convenience, to retrieve lectures or assignments.

Distance education debuted in the 1960s and 1970s when educational television and cable systems made it possible to beam classes into living rooms. But it took the technological revolution of the past decade--with its fast-paced information superhighway and high saturation of home computers--to bring it into the educational mainstream. Such advances have brought distant learners together, enabling them to participate in virtual study groups and collaborative projects, much like those associated with traditional college classes.

According to Barry Anderson, vice president of professional mentoring for The Master Teacher, a Manhattan, Kansas-based distance learning company, the number of people involved in distance learning is growing 30 percent per year. "It is estimated that by the year 2002, more than two million people will be participating in distance learning courses," he says.

Aside from the obvious cost savings in having employees stay close to home, there are other reasons for the growth in distance learning. First, there's the convenience of taking a course whenever, and from wherever, employees want. "Traveling and being away from family and facility can often have a negative influence on learning," Anderson says. "Along these same lines, geographically isolated individuals or facilities can now have equal access to learning programs." He also points out that "in the traditional classroom setting you are counting on the fact that everyone attending is 'ready' to learn. Distance learning puts the individual in control and makes it possible to learn when you are ready to learn."

A growing number of organizations are offering distance training. They include the following:

* The Long Term Care Network, a satellite-based educational system, offers in-service training and educational programs for nursing home staff. LTCN [less than][greater than] produces and delivers educational programming via satellite to long term care facilities. In most cases, the content of the programs enables subscribers to fulfill state-mandated training, continuing education requirements, and college credit.

* The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging is field-testing an interactive system developed by The Master Teacher.

* The Assisted Living Federation of America's ALFA University [less than][greater than] assists members with their training and educational needs. More than 2,000 assisted living facilities have trained their staffs in caregiving, marketing, fund raising, and management using ALFA U.'s CD ROMs.

Three main factors determine the success of a distance learning program, Anderson says. "A quality course should address long-term goals, short-term objectives, and the strategies for reaching these goals and objectives," he says.

Distance learning can help close the gap between frontline workers' skill level and the increasingly complex demands being placed upon them. CNAs must receive a minimum of 75 hours of training in their first four months of employment. While that training focuses on basic caregiving skills, these workers also need interpersonal relationship skills to help them handle demented and sometimes hostile residents as well as balance the conflicting demands of residents, family members, and supervisory staff. As providers recruit from harder-to-employ labor markets, many new CNAs need training in handling a full-time job--from punctuality to proper hygiene. But even seasoned employees benefit from training in time management, handling stress, and balancing family responsibilities.

"Through distance learning, organizations can provide a much broader selection of course topics," Anderson says. "Both cost and availability allow you to offer educational programs in such often-neglected areas as supervision, management, and human relations--people skills that will become increasingly important in retaining employees and creating an improved climate within the organization."

Distance learning may boost employee satisfaction. Many frontline workers enter the field to help others; by helping them achieve that goal, distance learning can help workers not only perform better but also enjoy their jobs more.

Bernie Khoo is director of research and information for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
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Title Annotation:distance education for nursing home personnel
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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