Picturing Our Work: Harnessing mLearning for Training Health Workers

Devika ChawlaIn this age of rapidly emerging technologies, how can we improve the way we provide training to health workers?

This is the question CapacityPlus is trying to answer with our mLearning work in Senegal. Using feedback from previous eLearning projects—such as problems with Internet connectivity and computer access—the project started looking into mLearning options that use audio to deliver training through the most basic mobile phones. But there was no suitable option.

So CapacityPlus developed its own interactive voice response (IVR) mLearning platform that delivers training to health workers on their mobile phones, meaning that health workers can remain at their posts and continue providing care in their communities.

I chatted with CapacityPlus’s Carie Cox, who is leading the work, to learn more about the mLearning platform. “This exciting new tool has the potential to expand the ways in which we provide training, especially refresher training, to health workers in rural and remote areas,” she says. “The IVR platform is designed with the user in mind by offering participants the ability to decide when to access the training information and for how long, based on their availability and preferences.”

This new tool is designed to provide effective, affordable distance training to health workers. And thanks to the interactive voice response component, it delivers more information than a standard text message on a basic phone. This tool has the potential to bridge digital, rural/urban, and even literacy divides (some community health workers, for instance, may not be required to know how to read) and reach far more health workers than in-person trainings ever could.

Khadidiatou Mbengue recording the content for IVR training

Here we see Khadidiatou Mbengue, who works for our lead partner IntraHealth International in Senegal, recording the content for our first interactive voice response training—a refresher course on managing contraceptive side effects, rumors, and misconceptions.

We’re now pilot testing the course in Thies, Senegal, with 20 nurses and midwives who provide family planning counseling in their communities. All the participants had completed a face-to-face course on the subject when IntraHealth offered it several years ago.

The new course delivers 20 audio questions with accompanying explanations to health workers entirely on their mobile phones. Here is one question health workers will hear:

Which of the following is NOT a side effect of combined oral contraceptive pills?
1.    Ordinary headaches
2.    Breast cancer
3.    Nausea and vomiting
4.    All of the above are side effects of combined oral contraceptive pills

The voice then goes on to explain why option two—breast cancer—is the correct answer.

The training uses spaced education methodology, a question-and-answer learning approach that repeats content in a way that has been scientifically proven to help students more effectively retain information and change their behaviors than traditional methods of learning.

Whenever participants are ready, they can listen to the questions and type the number corresponding with their answers. Participants receive prerecorded feedback right away. Once they have answered all the questions correctly twice in a row, the course is complete. After finishing the course, the health workers will receive a certificate along with a packet of all the course content.

We look forward to learning from this project as we continue to harness mLearning to support the global health workforce.

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Photo 1 courtesy of Devika Chawla. Photo 2 by Carie Cox