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Emergency Preparedness for Learning and Development

Friday, August 21, 2020
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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, the health system where I work swiftly moved into emergency management mode. I followed suit with an emergency preparedness plan for learning and development, striving to best support my research colleagues who were (and still are) working night and day on clinical trials in hopes of halting the pandemic. These steps were the least I could do as I watched my colleagues in the clinical and research front lines making daily sacrifices and trying to save lives. As the days unfolded, I found myself working through specific steps for emergency learning and development.

Understand the Situation and Assumptions

Be Involved in the Conversations. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had weekly calls with key stakeholders so I could best support the learning needs of our research employees. It’s important to proactively get involved and actively listen during times of crisis. Constant communication with my subject matter experts and leadership helped me stay informed and allowed me to understand the situation and assumptions of what to expect depending on how situations unfolded. This in turn allowed me to quickly assess and adjust emergency plans to communicate, educate, and train the workforce.

Conduct Rapid Learning Needs and Risk Assessments. You won’t have the luxury of time during a crisis to gather data like you typically would. Staying informed allowed me to conduct rapid assessments to determine what learning objectives to meet, prioritize delivery timelines, decide which employees to target, and choose the best educational format based on need and risk.

Map Your Learning Landscape. Now is the time to know the learning landscape of your organization. Maybe there are existing tools, resources, and personnel you can use during this time. Some important items to inventory include existing courses (in-person and online); workforce tools such as websites, decision trees and guidance documents; orientation programs; learning technologies; and learning and development personnel.

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Incident Management

Triage Learning and Development. Once you’ve grasped your learning landscape and have assessed learning needs and risks, consider what learning activities to develop and implement and what to put on hold. During the early months of the pandemic, I focused on working with subject matter experts on courses, guidance, and tools about new processes; policies and regulations for COVID-19 clinical trials; and frontline research colleagues could easily access through our intranet.

Adapt Realistic Solutions and Set Goals. It’s important to be realistic on what can actually be done during times when there are drastic competing needs and constraints (financial, staffing, time, and so forth). Develop and implement learning in the format that will be usable for your target audience. My organization had a dedicated COVID-19 page on our intranet where employees could access on-demand online courses via our LMS, policies, and on-the-job tools like videos, FAQs, algorithms, process guides, and templates. With limited time, resources, and people, these were quick solutions that could be easily revised as the situation unfolded.

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Preparedness

Communicate, Educate, and Train. It’s all hands on deck in an emergency situation, so learning and development professionals must do their parts in helping with communication, education, and training the workforce during unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about numerous and continuous process changes that the existing workforce needed to learn and a workforce full of volunteers or those new to research, our hospitals, and our ambulatory care facilities needed to be prepared for. Having an established online orientation was invaluable during this time when we relied so much on these people to provide relief for frontline workers. Technologies such as WebEx and Microsoft Teams also connected our employees on lessons learned and helped strategically plan, provided a forum for focus groups and town halls, and allowed us to pivot classroom instruction to virtual remote instruction.

Continuity of Business

Recover, Rebuild, Renew, and Reopen. These four R’s come from the New York State Board of Regents reopening plan. I am currently in this step as we are still in the midst of the pandemic, and I hope that the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic does not have me back pedal to any of the previous steps. My focus for the coming months will be to continue supporting the L&D needs of critical research functions, pivoting in-person classroom learning that I had triaged for long-term goals, re-evaluating the learning needs or gaps and risks assessment, and reassessing my strategic plan for the next few years. Our new normal in L&D may end up looking different from what we had envisioned when we got into this industry, but remaining flexible and thinking outside of the box will allow for greater success in the continuity of business, which in our case is the continuity of lifelong learning.

About the Author

Tina Chuck has extensive healthcare experience and holds a Master of Public Health degree, with more than 18 years of experience working in areas of research, infection prevention, administration, policy writing, and learning and development. Her personal passion is to be a driving force in quality and process improvement and to help reduce disparities in healthcare.

She currently is the director of the Office of Research Policy and Training at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health. In this role, Tina has spent the last nine years centralizing and overseeing the development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of research policies and research learning and development programs to meet regulatory, industry, and institutional standards that govern safe, responsible, and ethical conduct of research.

She describes herself as an accidental instructional designer and is self-taught on adult learning methodologies and technologies. Tina’s broad experience has allowed her to collaborate within various settings including hospitals, advocacy organizations, and managed care and see issues from the perspectives of the communities and healthcare professionals. As a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, she truly understands that everyone is different and learns differently—a valuable lesson she applies at home and at work.

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