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Outside the Lab Profession, Training and education

Virtual Learning for Training Success

As laboratories bring in new instrumentation, excitement quickly fades to stress and scheduling hassles for many. In addition to space modifications and laboratory information system connections, training staff on the new system while maintaining current workload demands can be a daunting task.

For over half a century, labs have sent staff for offsite training to operate their new systems. In this train-the-trainer model, those staff members are expected to be the key operators on the system and to transfer knowledge to others for the life of the system. Vendors set out to arm trainees with everything they need to know to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and train others on the system – but that doesn’t always happen.

Why doesn’t the material stick in these trained operators’ minds? Why aren’t the dozens of books, guides, and manuals lining the shelves of the laboratory cutting it? The answer may lie in a phenomenon called the Forgetting Curve.

What was that?
In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus demonstrated that knowledge retention decreases up to 40 percent in just a few days if that knowledge is not applied (1). Adding this theory to our experiences with training created an “Aha!” moment.

When customers travel to our headquarters for training, they often return to their labs to juggle running their current system with implementing the new one. It might be weeks or months before they go live on the system they have just learned everything they need to know about – meaning they will naturally lose a significant fraction of that knowledge. Is there a way to train basic operators so that they don’t lose knowledge as soon as they hit the tarmac of their home city?

Our goal was to train everyone who operates our hematology systems.

In 2009, we tested the use of webcams with select customers for “just in time” training – a remote basic training experience that customers could attend when they needed the information. Pilot successes and failures led us to think bigger – a lot bigger. We formulated a strategy to deliver professional-level training online – live – and gave it a prescient name: virtual instructor-led training (VILT). Our goal was to train everyone who operates our hematology systems. VILT would be divided into tell-show-do segments where the instructor tells the learners, then shows the learners on camera, then sends the learners to their instrument to do the exercise. When learners come back to class, they complete retention poll questions and participate in a question-and-answer session. The tell-show-do process is repeated segment after segment.

In 2010, we sought out space (and consultants) and began to build two television studios. The next three years were spent learning a new craft and navigating technology changes and challenges along the way. Beyond technology and construction, we had to transition our instructors to become not just on-camera talent, but educators who now taught to that camera without the benefit of classroom nonverbal cues.

By mid-2013, we were ready to kick off a pilot with a small analyzer and a few select customers. Their early feedback was used to polish our VILT classes and add support tools, such as documents to explain VILT streaming needs and ensure patient data was kept private. In January 2014, we decided it was time to rip off the bandage and launch our new hematology systems training in VILT.

Customers could now self-enroll through our online learning management system (LMS) for classes that worked for their schedule. Classes were shortened from five days to two and a half for more complex platforms and a half day for smaller systems. Because these classes are offered live, we quickly learned to modify start times to accommodate the east coast, west coast, and even Hawaii time zones. Surprisingly, we learned that these varied hours often allowed early morning or afternoon shifts to take VILT as well.

Come one, come all
How did we get customers to attend? We didn’t want to completely eliminate our in-person training, but we wanted to make it more like a Masters of Business Administration course involving networking, information sharing, advanced learning, and troubleshooting. We designed a “continuum of education” structure with levels ranging from basic training to advanced curricula, including an in-person class. The customer was given travel training slots as part of their analyzer contract and had the option to complete basic analyzer training through VILT and save the travel slot for an exclusive, invitation-only advanced class at our training facilities. Within a year, 99 percent of basic training was conducted through VILT and we replaced those in-person classes with advanced training where experienced customers could learn together at a higher level.

VILT attendance numbers began to double, triple, and now quadruple compared with the number of customers we could train in a classroom.

Through the years, VILT attendance numbers began to double, triple, and now quadruple compared with the number of customers we could train in a classroom. For example, in-person classes may be restricted to eight customers to optimize hands-on experience with the four analyzers in the room. Now, our largest class includes 64 customers working on their own instruments in their own labs. But even with the apparent success of VILT and a 93 percent customer favorability rating, a question still remains: how does this training help us achieve our goal of not only training everyone, but also driving retention?

Initially, we worried that having too many customers at the same site in a VILT class might be challenging, so we did what every scientist would do – a study. We had an opportunity with two different labs in the same integrated hospital system who were willing to try VILT. Lab A sent one operator to VILT; Lab B sent six. Upon assessing feedback from the customer and our implementation staff, the data showed that Lab B, with its six trained operators, was more prepared at instrument go-live time than Lab A. Furthermore, data from memory studies suggest people retain 50 percent more information when learning in groups (2,3).

In addition to the group learning benefits VILT offers, we noted something we hadn’t predicted: learners weren’t just taking VILT, but completing our self-paced e-learning courses as well – at an average rate of 250 completions per day! The e-learning we offer is available 24/7, so customers who can’t attend VILT or who want to review certain sections of the training can access it anytime.

Today, we have trained more than 18,000 technology users with VILT and have even increased our training operation based on an expanded product portfolio and customer demand for additional curricula. We’ve now established an educational site, the Sysmex Center for Learning, that houses seven professional production studios, large interactive advanced learning classrooms, and technical training classrooms built with VILT capabilities. Even now, we’re just scratching the surface of the future of training – but there’s still plenty of room to expand.

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  1. P Shrestha, “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve” (2017). Available at: https://bit.ly/2ZaaguB.
  2. The Peak Performance Center, “Learning Retention Rates” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/2MRCiIY.
  3. RN Cortright et al., “Student retention of course content is improved by collaborative-group testing,” Adv Physiol Educ, 27, 102 (2003). PMID: 12928319.

About the Author

Stephanie Post

Senior Director of Marketing Communications, Commercial Operations Training & Development & Program Management, Sysmex America, Lincolnshire, Illinois, USA.

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