Take the Learning to the Learner: Let them learn their way

The micro-learning for teens with IBD project was one that literally fell into my lap one day. As the eLearning Project Lead at Mount Sinai Hospital, I often receive emails, phone calls, and office drop-ins with all manner of questions in regards to education, learning, and educational technologies. On this day in January of 2015, I welcomed a perplexed Nurse Coordinator from our IBD program who wasn’t sure if she was in the right place. We discussed how I might be able to assist.

The physician in charge of the clinic for teens with IBD had realized that the series of educational emails he was sending out to his patients were falling short of the mark—in fact they were likely being deleted without even being read. She had been tasked to find a way to make this electronic information more appealing so that the teens would be more likely to engage with the content.

She was definitely in the right place; this is what I do. The first task was to look at these emails. I had to be honest with my feedback. As an adult, I wouldn’t have read them, either. They were pure text, poorly formatted chunks of information—but the underlying content was good! So how do we take this information and actually reach the target audience, my inner Bradley Shende voice started chirping in my ear. You can’t make learners learn; you certainly can’t make teenagers learn; you need to take the learning to them on their terms. This educational material needed to be located in a spot that these teens would be accessing multiple times a day, it needed to be easy, it needed to be quick little bites, and it needed to be fun/appealing. Sounds good. Now how do I make that happen?

Epiphany: talk to teens! In the workplace, we do needs assessments all the time. This was similar, just conducted in a more laid-back way, with coffee and conversation analysis. Where do teens spend most of their life? Answer: on their phones! They text, they call, they use apps; they don’t really engage in email. We looked at which apps they were using multiple times daily that we could leverage—YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—as educational technology. How long are they apt to stay engaged with a video on YouTube or Facebook? Two minutes maximum seemed to be the consensus.

I now had some direction and was ready to take the original emails and put them through some rigorous eLearning instructional design and development paces. At present, I work for a large academic teaching hospital in Toronto, Canada. We are publicly-funded. I am a one-stop shop of LMS administrator, instructional designer, eLearning developer, graphic artist, and voice-over artist. Confession: I am sorely lacking in the graphic artist skill set. I draw adequate stick people and am awesome at resourcing free and Creative Commons images required. I knew I wanted to produce really cool, funky short videos with whiteboard animation and hip young avatars; I knew I did not have this expertise; and I had an almost zero dollar budget.

Did I mention I was resourceful? A couple of years back at DevLearn2014, I met the GoAnimate team. They had a really cool product that was easy to use, could make professional animated videos, could produce a fully-functioning demo to trial for 14 days. After really checking out the product, I knew this would be perfect, but I couldn’t justify the $79.00 for one month for one video. However, there were about 13 emails that the IBD clinic eventually wanted to have re-created, and I also had another dozen projects in various states that could utilize different aspects from GoAnimate. For twenty-five projects, over $79.00 is $3.16 per project! It took some coordinating, but we queued up all of the projects that could benefit from GoAnimate and tackled them all at once to make the most of the one-month membership investment.

Enough of my frugal facts! Let’s get back to the project. We now had quick “micro-learning” animated videos on topics like GI Anatomy, IBD Flares, Pharmacotherapy, Substance Use, Stress Management, the Transition to Adulthood, etc. The videos were disseminated on a YouTube channel and closed Facebook group, according to the preference of our teens. That’s when the real magic started to happen—it wasn’t just that the teens started viewing the video, they started interacting with each video and helping each other. As Bradley Shende says, “Social media can transform students from individual silos of knowledge into connected nodes.”

This new initiative is still in its infancy, but for myself, I already consider it a win. We accomplished our main objective; we took some drab emails and, for the low price of $3.16 per video, we created educational content with which teens actively engaged. Our success was in recognizing where our learners preferred to access their information and letting them do so in their own unique social way. Take the Learning to the Learner: let them learn their way!

Cindy Plunkett
Cindy Plunkett is the eLearning Project Lead & LMS Administrator for Mount Sinai Hospital, and holds an adjunct position as instructor for the Educational Technology for Health Practitioner Education course, Academic and Graduate Studies Programs, Family & Community Medicine, The University of Toronto. Cindy has a Bachelor of Education and Master of Educational Technology and has experience speaking and facilitating both nationally and internationally. Mount Sinai Hospital, part of Sinai Health System, is as an internationally recognized 442-bed acute care academic health sciences centre affiliated with the University of Toronto that is dedicated to delivering the best medicine and best patient experience.