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Successful technology rollout hinges on understanding principles of adult learning

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Pulse on Patient Recruitment by Ashley Tointon

With the increased use of technology for the management of clinical trials, study management teams can realize significant efficiencies and cost savings. But in order for new technology to reach its full potential, users must be properly trained, comfortable with their knowledge and have a complete understanding of the implications of utilizing versus not using the technology.

As wonderful as technology can be, it cannot be introduced to an audience with the expectation that they will automatically understand and be able to implement it properly. A complete understanding of adult learning principles is a good place to start when developing a technology roll out.

Clinical trial management has matured significantly in recent years. Much of the growth is attributed to rapidly evolving technology that has been developed to streamline traditionally paper-based processes. With the multitude of changes, it is important to note that expectations of today’s workforce also have changed. Today’s clinical trial professional is expected to be flexible, technologically savvy and able to keep up with the increasing training demands of new technology roll outs.

However, training methods have not changed as rapidly as technology. It is common to find online or eLearning training for technology that does not adhere to basic adult learning principles. Adults have common challenges to learning, and without an understanding of these challenges one cannot identify or address them.

Basic principles of adult learning

  • Adults need to know why they should learn something
  • Adults need to learn experientially
  • Adults approach learning as problem-solving
  • Adults learn best when [they believe that] the topic is of “immediate value”
  • Adults need to be involved in planning and evaluating their instruction
  • Experience, including mistakes, provides the basis for learning activities
  • Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their jobs or personal lives
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented

For example, adults are task-based learners. Therefore, adult learning should be based on measurable, task-centered learning outcomes. Having clear training objectives also is critical. While training goals can be overarching and less specific, training objectives must be measurable. Thoughtful integration of interactivity in training allows a learner to actually perform a task that has been taught. It reverts back to “don’t tell me, show me” instruction. This type of hands-on learning can significantly increase retention for adult learners.

Imagine being given a new technology tool designed to make your workflow more manageable and cut your time per task. Your company has invested in the technology and you are expected to use it. Excitement is high, and while the technology may be great your understanding of it and knowledge of how to use it is lacking. If the technology training did not begin with the end user in mind, it may not have been effective or, worse, it may have been damaging to the adoption of the technology itself.

Transparency on both sides is imperative. Adult learners bring with them a wealth of experience, but also they may be less willing to learn passively. Many adult learners don’t want to learn anything new, and the quality of the training can lead to perception issues of the technology itself. Negative user perceptions often can deter adoption and, worse, derail future technology enhancements.

A “what you need to know” is the main content of training, an explanation of “why you need to know” can be just as important. If a particular technology is being used because it completely integrates with something else the company is using, it is important for the learner to know that. Often, with the numerous choices of systems available, users may wonder why one solution was chosen over another. Explaining the rationale for purchase concisely will allow for greater user buy-in, and may thwart unnecessary questioning of the decision to implement a specific technology. Providing context around “why” also may lead to more positive reception and, therefore, higher adoption rates. For example: if the technology will reduce manual entry by 30%, the end user who is tasked with manual entry suddenly will be more motivated to learn.

Because clinical trial management is becoming increasingly dependent on all forms of technology for day-to-day management, launching new technology has become more common. Technology training can make or break the success of the technology, regardless of how it performed in testing. Once a technology is developed, validated and tested, the hard work may seem over. If the technology works and will ease the manual entry burdens off the end user, it is easy to assume people will readily understand and easily embrace the change. Too often, these assumptions are not rooted in reality.

With careful planning and effort to attain user acceptance, successful technology roll outs can occur. One important way to ensure that success is to make sure your training adheres to the basic principles of adult learning.

Ashley Tointon  directs patient engagement programs at ePharmaSolutions, combining traditional methods with innovative, data-driven techniques to provide sponsors high-impact, cost-effective recruitment and retention programs. She has more than 18 years of patient recruitment and project management experience supporting clinical trials and the pharmaceutical industry.

This article was reprinted from CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »



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