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Rightsizing Learning and Development to Fit Research Professionals

By and

Tue Nov 03 2020

Rightsizing Learning and Development to Fit Research Professionals

Like many healthcare employees, research professionals who work in hospitals and health systems juggle various responsibilities and hold multiple roles, which include being physicians, nurses, faculty, mentors, and students in addition to being researchers and scientists. In terms of learning and development (L&D), they may be required to earn continuing education credits to retain professional licenses and need to complete regulatory and compliance trainings to meet institutional, federal, and international requirements. Managing all this results in L&D challenges for the research professional, including conflicting schedules, prioritization of clinical responsibilities, prioritization of scientific responsibilities (for example, grant writing or conducting experiments), and burnout from administrative burden. Rightsizing L&D to fit research professionals working in hospitals and health systems can improve an organization’s research learning landscape.

Don’t Be the Enemy

Rarely do the L&D functions for research professionals fall under a central office. Instead, most often the regulatory professionals, such as those working in compliance and human research protection offices, are the ones creating and implementing courses and training. These individuals are known as the gatekeepers and conduct audits, highlight errors, and mandate corrective action plans. It can be difficult for researchers to embrace anything coming from these individuals if they consider them the enemy. It can also be hard for the regulatory professionals to influence change if they only view themselves as enforcers.


Thus, you need to change the mindset and culture to be service oriented. Conduct learning needs assessments and a gap analyses to understand and prioritize the different needs of your research professionals. Collaborate with the principal investigators, research nurses, research coordinators, administrators, and other roles and embrace them as subject matter experts on topics, timing, and format to create and deliver impactful L&D. Not being the enemy helps eliminate wasted time and effort used in developing learning material that is not effective.

Innovative Learning

Transition from “check-the-box training,” during which warm bodies are lectured to without knowledge retention or an online course plays in the background while the person is focused on another task. Think outside the box when using traditional tools but keep it professional. Years before the COVID-19 pandemic, when the hybrid model became a way of delivery education to our school-age children, we implemented a hybrid model for our researchers dispersed across multiple locations. We offered in-person classes in a centralized location and broadcasted live via Webex. In our experience, this dual system allowed us to offer options that accommodated scheduling conflicts and learning styles.

While the hybrid model was innovative and successful for us, we overcame facilitation challenges that we see in our school systems today. Other examples include building a learning library for your researchers outside of the traditional LMS that works for them. If they want easily accessible byte-sized, just-in-time learning videos, consider creating a YouTube channel. If they want a virtual space to network and learn from each other, consider creating a private group on Facebook, Microsoft Teams, or other platform dedicated to a specific topic or research role and use apps and other technology that facilitate adaptive learning.

Researchers and scientists are innovative and collaborative—take advantage of these characteristics to create a learning culture that fits the research professional and they will appreciate you for it.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

You might have built a robust learning library for your researchers, but how do you make learning appealing, especially if not being actively sought out? Setup an appealing learning landscape and learning culture with a few strategic moves. Package your learning menu to target your research professionals so that they are easily accessible and searchable by topic and research role; try not to overwhelm with too many choices. Everyone loves to be able to Google something, so explore ways to do this within your LMS, YouTube channel, website, or .pdf learning catalog so that finding the right learning doesn’t become frustrating. Incentivize your learning—you can do this for mandatory and optional professional development learning initiatives.


Make learning fun and add value by using employee recognition programs, offering CME and other continuing education credits, and raffling prizes. Enlist learning champions who are change agents and who can help advertise and promote a culture of learning. These people could be medical directors, chairs, heads of residency and fellow programs, research administrators, and other leaders who could help operationalize learning when there are barriers, such as implementing protected time for physicians and nurses to complete courses, assisting in identifying research mentors, or building in research components to a clinical curriculum.

Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat

Rightsizing L&D for our research professionals takes some experimentation. It’s OK to fail, remove what doesn’t work, adjust, and try again. Evaluate your programs to identify what works and what doesn’t. You will be able to quickly identify the elements that would work well for certain learning initiatives. You will be able to make quick decisions about what should be mandatory or optional and in-person, virtual, or online. And you’ll discover how to maximize pre- and post-tests, surveys, evaluations, interactions, knowledge checks, and so forth.

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