This is the first design consideration of the Redesigning Training Programs for the COVID-19 Era and Beyond.
While the pandemic has forced many training programs to move online, training providers must keep equity in mind and take the needs of their participants into consideration as they decide when and how to use technology.
As they adjust to the realities of the COVID-19 era, training programs have had to learn how to deploy and use virtual learning environments and figure out how to deliver hands-on activities and other core elements of their programs remotely. Remote instruction often requires technologies that the program hadn’t previously used, such as videoconferencing tools and online recruiting platforms.
But one of the biggest hurdles programs face as they pivot to online models is that not all learners have equal access to remote training programs. Many don’t have the technical systems and other resources they need to take a class remotely, including laptops, tablets, or other devices, internet access, and even a quiet place to study and sit in on online classes. Black and Latinx individuals and people who live in rural areas or low-income households disproportionately face barriers to accessing technology. For many learners, limited access to technology is compounded by a lack of digital literacy.
Programs and their employees often face similar constraints, especially if they don’t have previous experience working with digital platforms, can’t afford licenses for software or other systems, or are unable to transition every component of their training to a virtual setting.
To support equitable access to online learning for participants and staff, training providers should identify and prioritize components of their programs that can be transitioned to virtual settings. This could include the recruitment and intake processes, the delivery of in-class coursework, and the administration of assessments. A variety of systems can be used to facilitate online learning including social media platforms, nudging tools, videoconferencing systems, video assessments, and digital case management platforms.
Training providers should also take advantage of their current partnerships and forge relationships with new partners to increase their remote learning capabilities. Here are some benefits that programs might be able to offer students with the help of partners:
- Connections to Wi-Fi hotspots provided by the community
- Laptop loaner programs and computer lab access at local libraries
- Equipment donations from IT companies
- Digital literacy training for students
- Professional development training for program staff
Partnerships may be especially helpful when it comes to finding ways to offer hands-on learning experiences like on-the-job training, internships, labs, and health care clinical programs in virtual settings. For example, partners may be able to provide access to systems like interactive technologies and video assessment tools. However, if it is truly impossible to move certain activities online, training providers should make every effort to ensure that their facilities allow for safe, socially-distanced in-person learning—if local authorities allow in-person instruction at all.
Harper College, Palatine, Illinois: Faculty designed effective alternative ways for students to learn and demonstrate difficult concepts. For example, rather than having students work through complicated math problems on their own and write down the steps they took to arrive at the answer, instructors asked them to share their logic and approaches directly with the class by recording themselves as they work on the problems and talking through and justifying each step.
Workforce Council of Seattle-King County: To ensure that all workers would be able to have access to its full range of program offerings, the Workforce Council of Seattle-King County translated all of its written and online materials into more than 10 languages, moved case management online, and worked closely with service providers and the Washington state government to provide a wide range of services and supports to users. The council also collaborated with partners to address issues of digital literacy and access, and launched a community engagement effort and gathered and analyzed data to improve its practices and ensure that they are effectively serving the hardest-to-reach communities and populations.