Ask the Experts: Designing Virtual Training with the Site in Mind
This monthly column presents questions from clinical trial professionals with answers from WCG’s expert staff. This month features insights from Brian Schilb, senior director of training solutions for WCG Trifecta, on ways sponsors can design virtual training to meet the needs of sites.
Question: A number of our sponsors are moving more toward virtual training and away from face-to-face sessions. What benefits are sponsors and sites seeing from such virtual approaches?
Answer: Based on our work with clients, WCG found that delivering on-demand training reduces costs by 60 percent, cuts site training time by 50 percent and gets enrollment started 55 days sooner.
Additionally, virtual training offers an array of other benefits. Because anyone from a site can attend, attendance is higher. Budget considerations often limit the numbers of participants in in-person training. Some people can’t travel, so they often miss out on training. Not only will you have more individuals attending, you’ll also have more sites represented. It’s common to see 100 percent of sites represented at a virtual meeting; that rarely happens with an on-site gathering.
Virtual training meetings can also be on-demand. Sites can do training at their own speed and on their own schedules. It’s much easier, for instance, to shift the dates for training. Some sponsors have put together virtual training in weeks, even days. These quick turnarounds are especially important for amendment training. In addition, on-demand training can be delivered right away as part of the staff initiation process.
On-demand training and training associated with the protocol must be accessible at all times. All live sessions, including the stand-alone Q&As, should be recorded and transcribed so salient questions and answers can be housed in the on-demand training platform for ongoing access. Store FAQ documents, newsletters, etc., here. In addition, all study training documentation should be in one location. This is important for accessibility in general and for audits.
Question: From study to study, our staff are often tasked with completing training that’s nearly the same as the trial before. This redundancy is frustrating and time-consuming for them. How can virtual training help reduce redundancy and make training more cohesive and effective while minimizing stress?
Answer: Site training content often overlaps from study to study, and clinical site teams frequently must complete training for a new trial that is identical or nearly identical to training they’ve previously completed for another project. This is not only wasteful, but frustrating for investigators and site staff.
Eliminate redundancy and you solve both problems. Consider the experience of one biopharma sponsor using virtual site training: Over four years, clinical site staff were exempted from 98,166 hours of redundant training. That’s more than 4,000 days.
Developing training for delivery in a virtual environment, either live or on-demand, requires a focused approach to content development. The primary objectives and the endpoints of the study should drive that content, and training should address elements of the protocol that carry the most risk. Focus on risk mitigation, not on self-explanatory operational instructions.
In other words, it’s essential to distill the training to the essentials: risk mitigation, necessary tasks and intended outcomes. The more the training attempts to cover every aspect of the protocol, the more weighed down the trainee becomes, and the training may become counter-productive. The training needs to be simple, easy to digest, focused and purposeful.
In addition, virtual training solutions should never add to the stress or workload of clinical site staff. They should make the task of training easier, not more difficult. Access to the training should be streamlined and password-protected, and technical assistance should be immediately available.
Question: Many of our personnel have remarked on how boring training tends to be. Can virtual training be more engaging than in-person instruction? What should sponsors be asking and learning from sites when designing their training sessions?
Answer: You’ve probably heard the complaint, “Oh, it’s virtual. It’s going to be boring. No one’s going to interact. Participants will be multitasking.” But here’s the open secret: People multitask at on-site training sessions, too. They get bored. Presenters can be dull.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise that lack of engagement is a greater concern in the virtual setting. We have many ways in virtual training to keep things engaging, including interactive quizzes and polls. Quizzes introduce a level of friendly competition and, at the same time, assess just how well the attendees are absorbing the material and identify potential gaps in learning.
Designated Q&A time is essential to engagement. In the on-demand model, it’s simply a matter of scheduling stand-alone, live Q&A sessions. These have become increasingly popular this past year.
Considering the voice of the site is critical. Successful sites have insights that can help struggling sites get up to speed. Course designers should ask prominent investigators in the study or in the therapeutic areas to provide feedback and information that could be included during the live Q&A sessions and address concerns during live meetings.