The Role of Community in eLearning Success
As Associate Director of Programs (Medical) at Free Wheelchair Mission—a nonprofit that has designed and manufactured cost-efficient, durable wheelchairs for 94 countries globally, Nicole VanderZouwen’s role includes developing the organization’s training curriculum and helping to support FWM’s partner organizations. In 2016, FWM reached out to Humentum as it embarked on a new e-learning path. In today’s blog, Nicole catches up with Sarah Squires, Humentum’s Communications and Content Manager, to discuss the collaboration and the importance of a learning and development community you can connect with and learn from.
Free Wheelchair Mission’s learning approach
Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) provides wheelchairs through partner organizations that work locally in their communities. Since we have many partners and are not always there in the communities, we needed to provide training—about our program, products, expectations, and requirements. Much of our curriculum was initially developed by researching best practices and visiting our partners to see how they work in the community—we tried to include the creative ways that partners implement their programs to help other new partners for the future.
Our training model is a blended learning approach—part of it is online and part in-person. This is because it is just not realistic for us to take up so much of our partners’ time in person, and also, much of the work can be covered online. First, our partners choose if they want it to be live on a Zoom call or whether they prefer to take the asynchronous, e-learning version. Our partners have access to the wheelchairs during the training, as initial trainings are scheduled around the first wheelchair container arrival. The skills are practiced, and wheelchairs are provided. We then follow up with an in-person training, as possible, to solidify the technical skills: the assembly, the adjustments, the user training, etc. Once the initial training is over, we have webinars or individual calls as needed. The partners then train their networks.
Since our partnerships are long-term–not per container–our intention is to develop sustainable, collaborative relationships. We try to incorporate flexibility and make changes based on feedback. Our partners and the people who use FWM wheelchairs have had a lot of influence on the training and webinar content. This year we’re hoping to co-create content to promote community and innovation.
Partnering with Humentum
Gus Curran, Senior Manager of HLS, was the first person to introduce us to everything HLS. We met Lourdes Isalgué, Member and Partner Engagement Manager, shortly after. We mainly did in-person training with our partners and remote training—through Skype or Zoom calls when we met. We were looking into e-learning platforms to reach our network and improve consistency with our content.
When we started talking to HLS, they presented the benefits package in a way that everything was right there for us: the support, the variety, the LMS, the authoring tools, and the community that has all these great ideas and has already been doing this for a long time. I looked at other authoring tools as we wanted to create our own training specific to FWM’s program, but no other organization could offer us everything. I was still new to e-learning, so I knew Humentum would be our best option to secure the support we needed to feel comfortable and learn from the learning community who work in this field.
When I first started, I felt overwhelmed with the work required to develop something worthwhile that wasn’t just all of the information dumped into an authoring tool. I remember Gus and Lourdes helped me find the tools to organize myself and the rest of our team. They’d always say, “Nicole, you do something similar to this person over here; you should talk to them.” The HLS Drop-in Learning Support sessions, the support emails, and the scheduled calls are super helpful when I’m working and have questions—having a time and place available to ask those questions has been vital to us.
Our challenge has always been getting our training through the entire network. It’s the primary reason we decided to move toward e-learning—you can sign many people up, translate everything, and it’s accessible. Most people have a laptop or cell phone, and the learning tool we chose displays on both. We were also able to add our different PDF materials as tools.
Learning how to be an instructional designer was also a big challenge. Technically, I’m a subject matter expert as a healthcare professional, but I’m learning how to step back from being a subject matter expert to be an instructional designer. Hearing how much everyone knew—Gus, Lourdes, and those I met during HLS Drop-in Support or Humentum’s Annual Conferences—inspired me to continue my education. I earned my “E-Learning Instructional Design” certificate at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). As someone training other people, I feel it is essential to continue learning myself.
Another challenge we had was learning how to manage all of the IT-related tasks. Lately, I’ve been working a lot with Suganthy Jebarani—Humentum’s Senior Manager of Learning Solutions—who is amazing and knows so much. I have nothing but great things to say about her, her work, and how she helps us whenever we need it. One of the big priorities was our reporting; our training has indicators that we look at to see if we are meeting our goals and having the impact we intended. So, understanding how to get the data points we needed was crucial for our organization, and Suganthy really helped us figure out how to get those from the system.
Where to from here?
We’re just at the beginning! We had a few courses out and a pilot of our custom learning path. A lot of the last four years have been about building up to this point—now we’re in the first “official launch” of our learning path in three languages. I can’t wait to see how this works for FWM’s partners and staff. I’m hoping to introduce more courses and resources soon.
I love partnering with Humentum and being part of the community. I’m excited to see how our partnership grows over this year and to join the upcoming events. And lastly, I look forward to seeing more organizations who use e-learning like us—with partners—join!