Here at JSI we are unlocking the advantages of elearning, such as convenience and cost-effectiveness, to help build the capacity of community-based organizations that provide HIV prevention services. Drawing on recent innovations in online education and insights from proven approaches in higher education, we have begun to transform how we deliver capacity building assistance. Recently, we have made a leap from traditional multi-day, in-person training events, to multi-week, online institutes that deliver the same high-quality training, but in a way that is more accessible and affordable for participants. In addition, we have developed self-directed, on-demand online courses that provide introductory-level instruction whenever and wherever it is needed. In the era of High-Impact HIV Prevention, in which organizations must use prevention funding for strategies that are likely to avert the most infections at the lowest cost, these new approaches to training and technical assistance are essential.
Our online institute was modeled after an online class, providing opportunities for participants to learn independently, and to engage with the facilitators, clinicians and other experts, and each other. It was hosted on JSI’s Learning Management System, which enabled us to host the online course content, enroll participants, support engagement and interaction, track participation, and evaluate the results.
We developed the online institute for the CBA@JSI project, a capacity-building assistance project that helps community-based organizations improve the delivery and effectiveness of HIV-prevention services for high risk and/or racial and ethnic minority populations. The project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How it came about: For more than eight years, JSI has provided capacity building assistance for HIV prevention providers. Our trainers are outstanding, and we have had much success with multi-day, in-person trainings and institutes. As part of our recent annual team planning meeting, we challenged ourselves to think differently about our work and how we could be innovative yet continue to provide high-quality services that are relevant to prevention providers. We decided that the traditional training model is outdated and inefficient, requiring trainers and participants to travel, miss work, and use increasingly limited agency resources.
But we wanted to capture what is best about that model – engagement with instructors and faculty, as well as the interaction among students that enables learning from each other. We decided to develop and implement a three-week course that takes place fully online. After eight months of development, including input from the target audience, the institute launched early this year with our first offering,“Preparing for changes in health care and HIV.” We held one session in February and another in March.
How it works: The institutes comprised three, one-week modules. Each module focused on a specific topic, and was designed to require about four hours of work. Throughout the week, students participated in webinars (either live or archived), read relevant articles, watched videos, and engaged in discussions with the facilitators and their institute colleagues. And best of all, they could do this whenever and wherever it worked best for them, within established weekly deadlines. In addition to the CBA@JSI facilitators, faculty included JSI clinicians and other experts, as well as external expert consultants.
The first week of the institute covered CDC’s High-Impact Prevention approach and the science of emerging HIV prevention strategies, along with challenges and opportunities of implementation. In the second week, students learned about emerging trends in the health care environment that will affect the delivery of HIV prevention, treatment, and support services for people living with HIV (PLWH). The third week covered key components of a strategic planning process and ways in which strategic planning can be used to respond to a rapidly changing healthcare environment.
We limited class size to ensure individualized attention from facilitators, and restricted enrollment to executive directors and program managers to ensure an appropriate level of instruction and student-to-student engagement. While we are still evaluating and learning from this first foray into online courses, participant engagement was good, and feedback has been positive. We achieved a fairly high rate of active participation in our first session, although the level fell off a bit in the second session, apparently due to enrollment of uncommitted students. The key to these online opportunities is to ensure participants are aware of the focus, objectives, and commitment required to complete the course.
Future online institutes will continue to focus on helping community-based organizations prepare for the future of HIV prevention and health care in the US. We may adapt the model to meet the specialized needs of specific groups of learners. For example, we might consider a six or 12-month institute with monthly activities, that builds a longer term learning community. Or we may consider hybrid options that blend online learning with in-person follow up at conferences or other events.
We also have created and launched two additional trainings in our, on-demand, self-directed series. This self-directed approach is especially effective in helping staff community-based organizations get up to speed on essential components of their jobs.
Over the past several years, our CBA@JSI project frequently received requests for technical assistance on social media for HIV prevention and how to monitor and evaluate services. We realized that before we could deliver specialized assistance, organization staff needed training on basic concepts. So, we developed these online trainings, each about a half hour in length, to enable us to respond to the needs of these organizations efficiently, and use our resources to address their more complex and specialized needs.
These trainings are useful for any level staff. Although they were created specifically for organizations working in HIV prevention, the information in these two training courses can be applied to any type of organization. The two modules, available in English and Spanish, are available for free to anyone who registers.