The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, a nonprofit long-term health care organization with more than 27,000 residents, established its learning and strategic integration department more than five years ago to consolidate the professional education infrastructure. The organization plans to use the new systems to support career lattices for most of its approximately 24,000 employees.
“Our vision is to create a learning infrastructure where learning is a benefit to our organization, and one that ultimately creates learning paths for each position that exists within the organization,” said Dr. Neal Eddy, vice president of learning and strategic integration, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society. “The majority of our work has to do with resident care. There’s a huge clinical component to our work. Many of those 24,000 are nurses or clinical technicians. Our vision there is that we can provide the certification or licensure opportunities for any of those positions, whether you’re employed by the organization or considering employment.”
“We have what’s referred to as a strategic direction statement,” he added. “It’s a series of subcomponents and statements that defines where we want to be over a 10-year period of time. There’s a specific statement in that strategic direction document related to learning: ‘To provide benchmark performance in personal, organizational and community learning.’”
To realize this objective, structural obstacles have to be overcome, including a learning model in which employees receive most of their training at facilities in 25 states. “We are challenged by the ability to really manage and track numerically the learning that occurs within our organization, because we have a very decentralized model,” Eddy said. “We provide a lot of learning that is developed through our national campus here, but at each of those approximately 250 sites, there’s a lot of learning that occurs locally.”
Some of the current educational programs include print- and Web-based self-study tools and instructor-led classes and retreats held at the main campus in Sioux Falls, S.D. In addition, Eddy and his team produce a television show, which includes contributions from subject-matter experts, that is broadcast live via satellite to the organization’s sites. “We have a state-of-the-art production studio here on our national campus,” Eddy said. “We have downlink equipment located at each of our sites around the country.”
“A number of our training and learning opportunities are delivered through that medium,” he said of the show. “It’s two-way audio, one-way video. When they deliver those courses, it can be very interactive. The field participants have an opportunity, either by telephone or by voice, to interact with that instructor or presenter. If they have learning needs or informational needs that need to be addressed in that session, they have an opportunity to do so.”
The learning and strategic integration department also has plans to develop new online and computer-based solutions to enhance the enterprise’s distance-learning opportunities. “We will be developing some virtual software that allows a prospective student—who’s maybe interested in being a nursing assistant—to get a look at what it’s like to be a nursing assistant and to assess the extent to which their skills or interests are compatible with that,” Eddy said. “Also, we will be providing and developing an online licensed practical nurse program for anyone who wants to be an LPN in conjunction with another academic partner.”
Metrics are already being implemented for many programs: For example, 15 months after the Society rolled out its Leading with Spirit series of 12 supervisory courses, the department worked with human resources to measure how the training had influenced employee and organizational performance. According to the statistics, workers’ views of how their supervisors assisted them, responded to their problems and concerns, and applied personnel policies positively increased more than 10 percent after the training. Additionally, turnover across the enterprise decreased 3 percent a year after the courses.
“We view the improvements in the metrics as evidence of impact,” said Carol Elkins, director of curriculum and faculty development. “We do not assume that the training is the only factor that impacted the metrics. However, we implemented the series by gaining organizational buy-in and commitment that supervisors at every level of the organization—from the CEO to the front-line supervisor—would complete the training and learn to apply the concepts in the workplace. We are looking for metrics that say the organization is moving in the right direction in relation to the identified indicators following the training. We intend to continue to track and report on the metrics each year.”
More metrics will be forthcoming when more of the Society’s learning programs have been brought into the organization’s learning management system, which is currently in development. “It’s hard for us at this point to get our arms around, numerically, at least, the impact of learning,” Eddy said. “We will be in a much better position to do this when we complete the development of a learning management system.”
“Our LMS project is making progress,” Elkins said. “We conducted an alpha pilot in six of our nursing homes in the last quarter of 2004. We’ve proven the value of tracking training in the LMS and have identified next steps for that project. In time, we will have better access to enterprise-wide training data.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.