Blog by Richard Mills
‘What’s the best way to learn?’ That’s a bit like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ There are so many ways to learn these days and our understanding of the different ways people learn means that the best way to learn depends on the learner, their learning preferences, and individual needs.
The social care sector has undergone a much-needed revolution in recent history, transforming from a model where those using services were given the support professionals believed necessary to a model where their wishes, needs, preferences, and dreams are central to everything that happens. We know this as a ‘person-centred approach’. An interesting development in this model has been the evolution of person-centred teams – where the person-centred ethos is applied to employees and those accessing the service. This has had the effect of making person-centredness a true value, meaning it applies across the board to service users and employees alike, rather than just those accessing services. But in terms of training, learning and development, are we behind the curve on this value?
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for the social care sector, one of them being how to continue to offer high-quality learning and development programmes that are essential for providing staff with the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs well. Because of the need for social distancing, the use of digital technologies in learning and development has inevitably increased with an 82% rise in demand for digital learning opportunities. This has presented an opportunity to tailor training programmes to suit employer and employee needs and make them more akin to a ‘person-centred’ learning approach.
Digital Learning for social care
One of the fantastic advantages of digital learning is that it can be done anywhere and at any time, reducing the need for employees to travel to a central location at a specific time when they could be needed in service. Digital learning could answer the question of ‘what to do on the bus or train on the way to work or home?’ How about learning something new from the incredible suite of online learning courses provided by employers? Another great advantage of digital learning is that if your mind wanders during the session (surely not), you can simply rewind the session back to watch and hear it again. This avoids the embarrassment of saying to a live presenter: ‘excuse me, could you repeat that because I fell asleep!’ Digital learning programmes can also be tailored to meet individual preferences like changing font colours and backgrounds, even translation into different languages. These platforms then offer much in terms of supporting person-centred learning, which is sometimes called a ‘learner centric’ approach.
Throughout the pandemic, there has also been the advent of the ‘hybrid approach’ where some learners attend courses live in the classroom, whilst others join using an online platform like Zoom or Teams. This has presented a new challenge for training professionals who have adapted their methods accordingly. Imagine a group where 10 people are present in person, and four others join via Zoom on tablets but are ‘virtually’ sat on chairs amidst the group. Then you get an idea of what a hybrid training session can be like.
For some time now, many schools have adopted a ‘blended learning’ approach which still uses a classroom base but within the classroom has several different learning methods at work. This is often a combination of things like teacher presentations, digital stations, small group or ‘pod’ activities, peer working, and the use of worksheets. Through blended learning, groups or pods of students can be occupied at one station, for example, using a computer screen or tablet, with others completing a worksheet whilst the teacher works with another ‘pod’, providing them with more direct and focused attention. Pods then rotate to a different station to do the next activity. This is excellent for managing concentration levels (adult attention spans are known to be about 20 minutes long). Social care could adopt a similar approach, learning from their colleagues in education and taking inspiration from the ideas of blended learning to suit its own needs. For example, where a particular topic has both knowledge and practical elements, a digital learning session could cover the theoretical knowledge and a hands-on face-to-face or live virtual session the practical parts – reducing the need for time off the floor to travel to and attend training.
If we haven’t already done so, it’s time we embraced this ‘brave new digital world’ in social care and recognise that learning is not just about attending classroom-based training courses. In fact, it’s something that happens or can happen every day. With digital devices in our pockets almost constantly, we can have access to learning wherever we are. We can blend this with more traditional methods too, where we learn from others, often just by shadowing or observing how another more experienced colleague handles a situation. There may be a place for integrating learning stations into the workplace, like a tablet or laptop computer that offers short ‘bite-sized’ learning opportunities in addition to the learning already provided by many leaders and managers in supervision, handover, and team meetings. In a true learning organisation, there is a constant emphasis on what can be learned. People even learn from their mistakes too, without fear of being judged by others. As the saying goes, ‘every day’s a school day’, meaning there is always something to be learned. What is today’s lesson?
As we emerge from the restrictions that have been in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many social care organisations are facing critical challenges in terms of staffing levels. This means that time allocated for staff training has come under further scrutiny and that any time that’s available for learning must be used wisely. Hybrid and blended learning approaches offer some interesting possibilities. With the digital technologies we have at our fingertips, we may find that we can develop our own kind of blended learning, one that is woven into the fabric of the working day. At Grey Matter Learning, we are ready to support you to meet the challenges ahead and ‘Click’ our eLearning system is already supporting many with their digital learning needs. In addition, we can create bespoke courses to suit your particular needs. Digital learning is a big part of the future of learning and development – whatever shape it takes. Whatever the challenges you are facing, we can help find the answers.