Facilitating Heuristic-Based Learning

After a user becomes comfortable with a certain process or procedure, trainers then can introduce similar processes to help build upon the learner’s knowledge. These corollary processes help reinforce previously learned methods.

Like clockwork, every visit to my parents has at least two components: my mother giving me food to take home and my parents asking for computer help. They do not ask me because I previously repaired computers professionally; they ask because I am younger than them, grew up around computers, and use computers daily. To me, the processes of computers justmake sense. Problems stem from either software or (less commonly) hardware issues. Using basic analytical skills, I can reasonably isolate the issue and take steps to resolve it.

As a trainer for a medical records company, I teach employees on foundational skill sets. including the use of various electronic health records (EHR) systems. Medical practices began using EHRs to store patient health records over the last several decades. While around prior, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) encouraged medical practices to move to EHRs. There are dozens of these systems. Hospitals mostly use one of two, but clinics and doctors’ practices have more than 20 different systems to choose from. (If you are interested, search for “interoperability health records” and read about some of the current challenges.)

My company offers our records services to clinics and practices around the country. While we are preferred partners with several EHR providers, we work with whatever EHR our sales team secures. This can be quite the challenge, especially if the EHR is archaic or esoteric. We must be able to learn not only the clinic’s processes but how to navigate within the EHR even better than clinic staff.

Similar to those who can fix computers, our employees are able to go into any system and utilize it with little to no training. How is this possible? From my assessment, I believe this ability stems from the process we use to train employees on how to utilize EHRs:

1. We create an environment where the learner can see patterns. With most types of computer-based processes, there are often multiple pathways to the same end result. A person may be more comfortable with moving the mouse (vs. using shortcuts or keyboard-based commands). In training, we provide at least two different examples on how a process is completed. This environment allows the learner to see the complete process—step-by-step—at least twice. The learner can start to recognize patterns.

2. We allow the learner to shadow an expert. Learners are encouraged to not just watch but actually go through the process alongside the expert. This is not a new concept—it’s called on-the-job training. For us, though, we want to start using this training component before the employee even gets out on the floor to his or her team. We want employees to be able to begin gaining confidence in the processes early on.

3. Allow the learner to develop his or her own strategies. While it would be nice if every new employee had the same computer skill set, this is not usually the case. Every learner moves at his or her own pace. Trainers often will need to adapt the classroom in order to accommodate individuals with lower computer literacy. Trainers also need to be flexible and allow learners to develop their own strategies to accomplish the desired end result. 

4. Encourage heuristic-based learning processes. After a user becomes comfortable with a certain process or procedure, trainers then can introduce similar processes to help build upon the learner’s knowledge. These corollary processes help reinforce previously learned methods. For the EHR world, this would include different EHR steps or even a different EHR. The heuristic-based learning processes should be fungible. 

Most people already have the capabilities to perform these steps, but they often need encouragement or shepherding. 

Darin Challacombe has been involved in education for more than 15 years. He holds a Ph.D. in social psychology, works as the senior Training and Curriculum developer for a medical records fulfillment company, teaches part-time at Fort Hays State University, and runs his own consulting business. He is passionate about finding new, creative ways to help others learn.


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