By Chara Balasubramaniam, Janice Mas, Hayley Crouch, Helen Rushmer-Wilson, Hannah Kitchen, Joe Mallen, Rob Mcinnes And Dawn Livingstone
Picture a global corporate organization focused on product development, consisting of thousands of employees in many countries across the world. Now imagine training those people about a product pipeline that probably takes many years from formulating an idea to eventually getting to market. With so many people, in so many locations, satisfying so many roles within the organization, how do you come up with an effective and engaging learning strategy?
The Challenging Years
Training in the health-care and life sciences industry has always been compliance driven. It’s hard to argue against the compliance nature of our industry, and that spills over into our approaches to training — especially with patients in mind. However, should training just be about achieving that tick at the end through a single e-learning module or learning event? Even if it is about compliance, these days our external authorities and regulators expect more from us, especially in our approach to learning and development.
In such organizations, most training has been done by various groups in silos as opposed to working toward a unified holistic approach to product education. They’ve all employed strategies that have been reactive, based on emerging training needs, and very disjointed in regard to learning design. When it comes specifically to product education around drugs targeting life-threatening illnesses, training has been designed in two parts:
1 The disease: Training based on content relating to initial patient presentation, signs and symptoms of a given disease, investigations that are required as followup, diagnosis based on all the information at hand, and treatment based on diagnosis.
2 The product: Training based on how the product would help target the disease, how the product works from a biochemical process perspective, how it is administered to the patient, and what the outlook is like post-treatment, including any potential side effects.
That textbook approach is what we in the industry have come to expect of product training. But how memorable and effective is this approach?
Even in recent years, the fragmented nature of product education has continued. Since the advent of learning technologies, a mixture of approaches have been deployed using the very disparate learning design and content approaches mentioned above. Beginning with the new millennium, the industry started training people on product education but focusing on e-learning delivery methods to make it more cost effective, and using webinars and linear didactic e-learning modules (often PowerPoint conversions) in addition to face-to-face events. Some individual elements have been great, but due to the lack of overall approach to product education, the impact has been lost.
Thus, the challenge became to find that “special something” that was missing. Designing product education around two parts — which makes perfect sense — was a good place to start. However, how to cut across all of the information within those two parts was still missing. Often the most obvious solution — in our case, the patient — was forgotten.
Connecting Patient To Product
As The Learning Academy within Global Clinical Development at Bayer HealthCare, we continuously seek opportunities to enhance our people’s knowledge through innovative solutions to identified learning needs.
Last year, The Learning Academy was approached with a business need to enhance the level of organizational expertise of Bayer employees who are in contact with clinical sites conducting studies for a key compound in development. Since we know that adequate product education is a crucial success factor for all employees in Global Development and beyond, we quickly set out to analyze the who, what, when and how of the need.
Through this analysis, it became evident that a holistic and progressive approach would be required for the learning journey, which would take individuals from very basic understanding of the compound to an expertise that would enable them to speak knowledgeably with physicians and clinical trial investigators.
The Learning Academy, the Clinical Team and Medical Communications collaboratively devised an approach to product education that not only satisfied the educational needs for this particular compound but which in the future would be easily re-purposed for any development product.
The Learning Academy found that a learning path that blends innovation with delivery was needed to offer a unique and optimal learning experience. This was an opportunity to really engage and motivate the learners by linking the facts to the real experience of a patient undergoing treatment. Using a combination of good story-telling techniques and leadingedge technology to bring our product compound alive, we decided to lead our participants on their learning journey through the eyes of a virtual patient.
Learners begin their educational experience with several uniquely designed e-learning modules in which a virtual patient, Susan, allows us into her world, to hear about her signs and symptoms, her diagnosis, her treatment and beyond. We are able to unfold the details of her progressing disease and treatment as seen from her perspective. Details about her personal life — hobbies, time spent with friends and family and how all of this was impacted by the disease — are also introduced.
The video of Susan and her journey eventually leads to her participate in a clinical trial involving our product. Her story is presented as a series of short sequential clips along a sliding parallax HTML5 timeline, interspersed with further text and image content relevant to each clip. Visually, the timeline illustrates snapshots of Susan’s life — her garden, her home, visits to her GP and the hospital — to further depict a character that the learners can relate to and empathize with, all within a well-written scenario. The e-learning modules and “Susan” provide the learner with a unique opportunity to understand the disease, the product’s target indication, safety profile, drug administration and mechanism of action.
With respect to the mechanism of action, we took innovation one step further, using design thinking approaches, and delivered the material via an immersive format using Unity 3D. This resulted in a virtual reality sequence that not only satisfied our e-learning requirements but was also easily adapted to serve the needs of future face-to-face learning and marketing/ communication events. Having this multioutput approach allowed us to memorably satisfy our foundational learning.
In keeping with this blended approach to learning, the e-learning modules were supplemented with a reference library that is a repository of literature, journal articles, competitor information, and internal training presentations. In addition, an interactive face-to-face global workshop was included as part of the learning path strategy, as it will continue to deepen the knowledge gained from the virtual patient and the e-learning modules. In fact, there are plans for our virtual patient, Susan, to make a special “real” appearance at the event as part of simulated activity-based learning events to achieve higher learning. As you can see, the concept of the learning path can be innovatively delivered to increase organizational knowledge and level of expertise. Through the measured use of e-learning, the foundational knowledge so important to start a robust product education journey is set. Each step beyond, particularly the face-to-face event, meets the challenge to achieve higher-level learning, which in turn should result in a higher competence level for our employees.
What Does the Future Hold?
For us in life sciences and health care, patient-centricity is key. Patients have always been our focus, but we feel now more than ever that positioning product training firmly around the story of a patient, you achieve a high-impact, more meaningful learning experience.
A key take-home is that regardless of your line of business, look back for your most obvious solution and try not to overengineer your learning interventions. Once you’ve found your “virtual patient” equivalent, focus on telling a good narrative. Get the story right, and the rest will fall into place.
—The authors all work in The Learning Academy at Bayer HealthCare