Health Industry Employee Training – 6 Key Principles

Your health system could have the best instructors in your state, access to the most up to date technology, and stellar course materials – but if you have the wrong approach to employee learning, you may not achieve the results you’re seeking.

Adults learn differently than children. Adults build up defensive walls if they do not see the point of a subject matter. Other factors come into play as adults are distracted by everyday life, whether a work task or personal issue. A few small pointers cannot solve all the challenges of  developing healthcare staff, but can prompt questions about your organization’s current approach to training. Maybe a simple change can have large results, it may be time for a rethink? Based on Malcolm Shepherd Knowles’ Adult Learning Theories, here are 6 key adult training principles and ideas that can help some U.S. health systems to improve.

If it is not clear why associates are being asked to complete a piece of learning, they may not engage with it. Most of the time you’re asking associates to take a course for good reasons, but saying “because it’s for compliance” may end in learners sitting through videos and not paying  attention. Don’t jump straight into lessons without explaining what the reasoning is. Remember that instruction should be task-oriented instead of promoting memorization — learning activities should be in the context of common tasks to be performed by your learners. Try using a few staff members as test subjects before pushing out courses, and learn from the questions your test group has, to help with developing instruction.

Important behavioral skills for are taught in Catalyst Learning’s CAPS curriculum. CAPS is behavioral skill learning, with video situations that are healthcare specific, meant to be watched in groups. Courses include subjects like: Communication in the Workplace, Problem Solving, Life Management, and Critical Thinking. For best results, HR should explain how course objectives can help learners recognize different communication styles, utilize creative thinking techniques, and how goal-setting can help associates with their current role, and future roles in the organization. Without ties to obtainable worth-while goals, learning engagement may be lower than you’d like.

Think about barriers that could block employees from learning – time, boredom, technology, lifestyle, work demands, or motivation. You’ll need to have an answer for each of these challenges if your employee development is going to be a success. One way to combat obstacles is to get managers involved in the learning process, set expectations, and encourage coaching of their direct reports.

So much of employee learning has moved online now because it is easier for HR to administer, but research shows that you should shift to learning in groups wherever possible. Consider having some elements led by an instructor, either in person or possibly with an easy collaboration tool, to facilitate discussion between learners. By encouraging employees to help each other, you’re making each of them think about what they’re learning. Studies also show that spending time in groups can have a large positive effect on attitudes!

Lakeland Health, a system with 50 locations and 3 hospitals in SW Michigan, takes collaboration and learning cohorts to a higher level. Lakeland builds leaders with its own education department called Lakeland University. Strong internal training programs prepare the existing  workforce for the demands of the future with new skills sets and relationships that cross traditional department lines. Lakeland’s “Leading Towards the Future” is an 18-month program that focuses on collaboration, emotional intelligence, crucial conversations and resilience to change, and is done in classes of 15 participants. Specifically for frontline team members, Lakeland Health offers School at Work® in cohorts, that combine learning with career development. At a recent School at Work graduation, 6 of 8 graduates state they were going back to school as a result of the group learning. Feel free to read our blog article on Lakeland Health!

Assessment should be designed to let you and the learner know how well they’re grasping the material and what areas need more work. Think about ways to layer knowledge in courses, so that learning is built on earlier knowledge/learning, and scores will increase as associates progress if they are genuinely absorbing the information.

Mercy Health Youngstown aims to enroll up to 45% of their employees in skills training programs and help more employees pursue advanced educational opportunities. This health system tracks employees pursuing advanced educational opportunities, and as employees succeed and move up within the organization, senior leaders have seen morale and retention rates improve. Feel free to read our blog article on Mercy Health!

Find a way to increase employee status or reward employees for participating in, and finishing learning modules. Rewarding could mean leader boards or badges. Rewards can be team based so associates can compete against others on a team, or work together against other teams. A reward could be something simple, like a half day off, team pizza party, gift card, or better parking spot.

You may be tempted to purchase or create a course, put it out publicly to your associates, and forget about it and go onto the next priority. But this is a flawed approach when it comes to adult learning. As part of your associate learning process, build a monitoring process for reviewing results. How satisfied are employees with the course or product? How many complete it? If possible, come back and measure long-term results – Does learning encourage employees to stay with your organization longer or to move up in the organization later? Are there any bumps in pay?

TriHealth, a large healthcare provider out of Cincinnati, performed a 5-year study into the impact of select frontline employee development programs. TriHealth found high employee retention rates and wage increases from select employees who had been a part of a cohort of associates who went through a behavioral skills training curriculum, showing learning and development does encourage employee retention and upward mobility. Feel free to ask us for a copy of TriHealth’s report, at

Here are quick highlights of Malcolm Shepherd Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory, how an optimal learning environment would look for adults:
• Self-Directed/Autonomous: Adult learners should be actively involved in the learning process such that they make choices relevant to objectives and goal-setting. Learners need to be given the freedom to assume responsibility for their own choices.
• Utilizes Knowledge and Life Experiences: Learners should connect their past experiences with their current knowledge-base and activities.
• Goal-Oriented: The motivation to learn is increased when the relevance of the “lesson” through real-life situations is clear, particularly in relation to the specific concerns of the learner.
• Relevancy Oriented: Relate assigned tasks to learning goals to show direct contribution.
• Highlights Practicality: Best learning is when students apply learning concepts into real-life situations.
• Encourages Collaboration: When learners are considered by their instructors as colleagues, they become more productive. When their contributions are acknowledged, they are willing to put in their best work.

Adult Learning Principles, Malcolm Shepherd Knowles; “How to incorporate principles of adult learning into training”, Melissa Grey Satterfield; “The Fundamentals of Adult Learning”, Linda Russell, ATD; “5 Principles for Teaching Adult Learners” Talisha Holmes, General Assembly