Instructional designer puts herself in learners’ shoes in Fundamentals of Online Teaching for Health Care Professionals

two health care professionals in an office

Instructional designer Andrea Delaney helps faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School design their courses, integrating best practices for teaching and the best technology tools for students. Though she has ample knowledge about the tools of the trade, taking online courses helps her experience what online learning environments are like for teachers and students.

That’s one reason she enrolled in Fundamentals of Online Teaching for Health Care Professionals, an online certificate offered by Distance Education Professional Development in UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. This six-week course is tailored to the needs of health care educators in fields such as nursing, radiology, pharmacy, and medicine, which are increasingly offering online instruction. Participants can earn continuing education credits, such as 30 nursing contact hours from the Wisconsin Nurses Association.

An invaluable perspective

instructional designer andrea delaney
Andrea Delaney: ‘The instructors modeled best practices for an online course.’

For Delaney, taking the course meant putting herself in the shoes of the teachers and learners she serves.

“My team is assisting our faculty in making the transition from face-to-face or blended instruction  to a fully online format. It made sense for us to take an online course to help us prepare for the process and get a feel for what our faculty might be experiencing as they change the way they facilitate learning,” she says.

This certificate also appealed to her because health care content is the focus and a PhD-level health-care education expert is one of the teachers. It seemed like a good fit for an educator working at a medical school.

But as Delaney took Fundamentals of Online Learning for Health Care Professionals, she found it was more than a good fit. It provided a much-needed perspective.

“The course was instrumental in helping my team get a true appreciation for what our faculty will be experiencing as they transition to a new mode of instruction, as well as what will be expected of us as instructional design and information technology professionals in helping them get there,” she says.

Delaney says courses like this one are essential for instructional designers because they highlight the human element of learning.

“Many instructional designers tend to focus on content and information design, and the element of human interaction can be marginalized,” she explains. “Fundamentals of Online Teaching for Health Care Professionals really showed the importance of well-thought-out, comprehensive, and integrated communication in keeping learners engaged in a space where it’s easy to get lost and feel isolated.”

The course also helped Delaney identify areas for improvement in her own work.

“I was surprised to learn that simply repurposing the instructors’ existing content and adding a few communication tools isn’t going to help them succeed in an online learning space. Being immersed in the online course from a student perspective made that real for me,” she says.

Flexibility, feedback, finesse

In addition to experiencing what it’s like to learn online, Delaney benefited from watching the instructors practice what they preach.

“The instructors were masterful in their teaching and their communication of expectations,” she explains. “They really modeled and personified best practices for an online course. I will enter into my discussions with teaching faculty in a more practical way as a result. ”

In addition to being very clear about how to succeed in the course, the instructors made Delaney feel valued by carefully listening to her questions and crafting responses that helped her grow.

“They seemed to genuinely care about my experience as a student and gave me thoughtful feedback on my work,” Delaney says.

Participants receive personalized feedback on hands-on activities, as well as a final project that relates to their jobs and helps them showcase new skills they plan to apply in the workplace. They also complete weekly modules on topics such as characteristics of online learners and planning course content, and interact with each other through discussions and other opportunities to build community with fellow healthcare professionals.

With so many learning activities to complete, Delaney was thankful that the course accommodated student schedules so well. This flexibility is especially important for health care professionals, who often work long and unconventional hours.

“I liked the flexibility of the online learning experience, including the Tuesday-to-Tuesday approach to the schedule,” she says. “Everyone in the course was a working professional, and having that extra day to complete assignments was so helpful.”

With her new knowledge and insight, Delaney feels better prepared to help her faculty and her instructional design team succeed.

“I have a much more concrete sense of what kinds of skills and tools they will need to be successful,” she says. “I’m surprised just how much I learned.”

To learn more about Fundamentals of Online Teaching Certificate for Health Care Professionals, see contact Janet Staker Woerner at 608-890-3038 or janet.stakerwoerner@wisc.edu.