22 June 2020 by Keren Jamieson


Keren Jamieson,
Learning and Organisational Development Manager at AFG, a North West based charity providing specialist support services to around 1,200 adults with mental health or learning disability needs.

Before COVID-19, most training was delivered in classrooms, either by us or training partners which covered weekly welcome inductions, yearly refreshers and practical sessions all supported with bite-sized specialist topics on eLearning.

We have undertaken a massive change in how we provide our training since lockdown.  In three months, we’ve gone from 85 per cent classroom-based to 100 per cent digital – amazing!  In the future this will probably reduce to about 85 per cent digital because there is still some practical training we need to do face to face, such as basic life support and first aid.

As with any change, we had a lot of colleagues who engaged and others who pushed back. That has reduced tremendously as more people embrace our new way of working.

We took our first steps into eLearning last year. Then, just before lockdown began, we looked at what we currently offered and what was absolutely essential to get us through the next six weeks –that was how long I thought it might last!

We looked to the CQC, Health and Safety Executive and Skills for Care for guidance on keeping colleagues competent and skilled; and identified the best way to deliver essential training through a variety of channels: such as telephone and using Microsoft Teams, AFG’s SharePoint site and eLearning. 

The feedback has been so positive; learners love how we run our sessions; managers love the fact that they get their new starter earlier and we’re finding we have many colleagues signing up to the bite-sized eLearning modules with many new support workers completing the Care Certificate weeks earlier than pre-COVID lockdown. It’s a great step forward.


Three blockers

There were three blockers to going digital before COVID. First, learners were saying they couldn’t get into the system; they had to log in to the tablet or computer with one password and then use another password to log into eLearning. It was an obstacle until COVID happened. It pushed us to change our thinking and make single sign-on happen. With this fixed, it’s reduced the number of calls to our helpdesk.

Second, some learners were not as digitally competent as other people, didn’t read their emails and were unaware of any communication or updates sent to them.  With a bit of creative thinking we fixed this by calling learners in advance and talking them through how to access their emails, eLearning modules and use Microsoft Teams. This meant they were competent to join the trainer for their coaching and competency checks at a later date and also ensured we didn’t miss anyone!

The third barrier was lack of time to carry out online training when individuals were also carrying out their supervised shifts. We changed that by giving them permission to do the training on their phones at any convenient time, including at work if the client was asleep.

This meant that anyone had the flexibility to undertake their training at a time that suited them, on a device that worked for them and at a pace that enabled completion before a deadline.


Seamless shift to digital

Since 23 March the change has been seamless; we have inducted 131 new starters for AFG using one-to-one remote coaching by telephone; and Microsoft Teams online presentations for our welcome and induction training.  We’ve also completed annual refresher training in a similar way for 132 colleagues.   We’ve enhanced our use of SharePoint to develop distance learning programmes and recently started using the whiteboard facility within Teams to improve collaboration within the cohort of learners. 

We’ve worked closely with partners to develop training and provide support that previously took place face to face, such as fire warden training and apprenticeship assessor meetings, successfully moving these to virtual classroom sessions.

Of course, it hasn’t been plain sailing; there has been an impact on trainer resourcing, getting a balance between delivery and re-designing training material to make it suitable for a virtual environment. Also, learners may not have an up to date computer system or enough network bandwidth to carry out online training – in which case we revert to good old telephone coaching conversations and PowerPoint presentations.

An unexpected bonus was the impact on 53 of our head office staff when it was decided they should undertake the Care Certificate training in case they were needed to go out as support workers.  They learnt the fundamentals of a support worker’s job – and they loved it!

Although they weren’t called on in the end, it gave them a closer insight and appreciation for the amazing work of our support workers. Following their feedback, all new Head Office staff now complete this training as part of their induction journey.


The future is digital

Recent surveys have demonstrated that training in this virtual way is seen as a big success by everyone - from the Learning team, learner, manager and organisation perspective - and there is a real thirst to continue this way. 

Digital is now a big part of our new five-year strategic plan and it will change the way we recruit people as they will have to be digitally savvy – or at least willing to be trained.

Of course, this is an uncertain time for many of us and will be so for the foreseeable future.  While none of us can predict what ‘business as usual’ looks like in the coming months, the Learning team have quickly adapted and are constantly designing innovative ways to continue our service to colleagues. 

The need to adapt quickly has enabled us to become more innovative and intuitive in our thinking and application.  The learning we have gained is priceless and although there are still many unanswered questions about how we can provide practical training, we are committed to providing a positive learning experience and supporting our learners’ wellbeing during these challenging times.

Story told 18 June 2020

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