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Totara 2.4 Open Badges and the Future of Education in Healthcare

Wellington, New ZealandLearning NewsTotara

In our recent white paper, Open Badges – a new catalyst for learning design, we pointed out the incredible potential for open badges to go mainstream rapidly to help solve a longstanding problem: a disconnect between learning paths, corporate training outcomes and vocational outcomes.

Graphical open source badges can do much to help HR departments and hiring executives connect real experts with the right jobs, and also help steer corporate training resources towards more productive pathways. Working with Mozilla, we’ve developed badges, a badge issuing and management system for both Moodle and Totara Learning Management Systems (LMS) – systems with a combined user base nearly 70 million strong, which bodes well for fast adoption of open badges as industry standards in multiple sectors.

Healthcare is one area that can particularly benefit from the introduction of open badges to enhance training programs. To get a handle on this, we talked with Totara LMS Solution Partner Think Associates’ Managing Director Tim Newham, who has over 10 years’ experience of managing large-scale performance and learning processes in the public sector. We got his take on what problems healthcare organisations are facing and how open badges could provide a ready solution.

Totara LMS. In the healthcare area specifically, where are the big disconnects between education and vocational readiness?

Tim Newham. In healthcare we see three main education/development challenges.

First, healthcare qualifications tend to take years and are relatively inflexible. Though this world is changing slowly as the UK gets a better understanding of educational Credit, at the moment there are a limited number of different “shaped” healthcare professionals being turned out from the education system. They are then molded into the many thousands of different roles that healthcare providers need. Work-based experience is rightly seen as key to this molding, but is generally measured in months-served or in informal reviews of competence.

Instead, it could be measured and rewarded more effectively with badges. Badges could be issued for effective practice on a particular ward, for dealing with patients with a particular illness, using a particular device.

The second challenge is that healthcare practices are changing at an ever faster rate. New drugs, devices and procedures deliver better patient care, but it is very difficult for healthcare workers to stay up to date, and even more challenging for organizations to keep on top of who knows how to do what. Badges can help here.

The third challenge is that once healthcare workers are qualified and working, their main gripes around education are the need to do annual refresher training on things like fire safety and patient handling. It’s been estimated that the UK’s NHS spends over £500m/year on unnecessary so-called “mandatory” training. Worse, if I work at hospital A and complete some mandatory training, then move to hospital B, I’m usually asked to re-do the training! A transferrable record like a badge, which can also have an “expiry date” will be a great way of streamlining this system and saving money.

Bite-sized, traceable, accredited illustrations of skills, knowledge and behaviours – linked to competency assessment rather than time-served on training courses - would go a long way to easing these challenges.

Totara LMS. What are the obstacles in healthcare that would need to be overcome for open badges to become mainstream?

Tim Newham. The challenge with badges generally is how to develop that critical mass and break into a virtuous circle. Training providers won’t award badges until individuals value them. Individuals won’t value them unless employers recognize them. Employers won’t recognize them until individuals start presenting them to employers.

That challenge seems tough to solve, but on the other hand, the healthcare sector is a great place to start with badges because the overall ecosystem is relatively small (i.e. hundreds of thousands of learners rather than country-sized populations of millions).

We’ve found that badges are generally well received – with 3 caveats. The first one is that the design and taxonomy of the badge needs to reflect the organization’s culture, language and processes (to avoid the “not invented here” syndrome) – while still articulating with national standards like competency frameworks and occupational standards. We’re helping organizations to manage the tension between an open, vocational, informal and social approach (badges) and the need for robust teaching, assessment and recognition of skills/knowledge (the world of qualifications). It’s a tightrope but we seem to be walking it quite well so far!

The second caveat is that the label “badge” causes some obstacles – people can sometimes equate it with tokenism, or low-value collections. So we tend to start off with talking about credentialing learning, or e-certificates, or online records – and then only later introduce the “badge” language.

The final caveat is that in the UK, the NHS can often be quite centralist and controlling when it comes to employee data., So an Open Badges philosophy that says “learners own their own information and share with employers as they see fit” is quite a cultural shift. That said, it’s a shift that is in line with other learning trends – the idea of learners taking more accountability for their development and safe practice. There’s a technical solution too – a “walled garden” of badges where an NHS organisation can implement its own badge backpack server. Learners are free to copy their badges elsewhere, but while they’re on the organisational server, the organization can interrogate the badge database. We’re helping one organization do that now.

Totara LMS. Are there any other ways open badges proponents could overcome those obstacles?

Tim Newham. The only other thing I’d add is that we are, in some places, introducing badges by stealth. Completed an e-learning course? Get a badge alongside your PDF certificate. Attend a training course? We’ll email you a badge of attendance. Slowly people start talking about badges: “John, what’s that in your email signature? How do I get one of those….” and then you’re off.

Totara LMS. What real-life clinical situation can you imagine where badges would make a difference in patient outcomes?

Tim Newham. Oh, lots! As well as the boring but big money savers mentioned above, like reducing unnecessary repeat training.

How about looking at badges as a tool for 360 degree feedback – individuals collect badges throughout the year, and this then becomes their evidence base at appraisal time. Making everyone a badge-issuer would be a great ambition.

Patients could also issue badges for great care – and nurses and doctors could display these with pride.

Another clinical situation could take place at nursing college or medical school, where students could start to collect badges from their tutors. Future employers could (with learner permission) view these badges and check the progress of cohorts, or suggest new areas of learning to make sure that the eventual new employee can be highly effective on day one. Using badges to speed up the dialogue between employers and training/education providers will result in much more effective use of development budget.

Badges also don’t have to just be issued for competence. How about badges to show you’ve had your inoculations? (That’s something else that the NHS struggles to track – though that’s probably for a different conversation)

How about badges for patients? If we’re sending you home with a new ventilator, let’s check you can use it and issue you a badge when we’re sure you can. This dramatically reduces readmission via A&E (which is expensive) and has great social benefits too – we might just have got someone back into lifelong learning for the first time since leaving school at the age of 13, 50 years ago.

Thinking about upgrading to Totara 2.4 to take advantage of open badges and other new features? Contact Totara to learn more

Read Totara's recent white paper: Open Badges – a new catalyst for learning design

About Think Associates

 Think Associates Ltd specialises in performance and learning systems consultancy and implementation across the UK. We have a particular focus on healthcare, public sector, and other high-compliance organisations which have complex learning and development requirements. We are passionate about open source technologies to deliver cost-effective, high impact and flexible performance and learning.