The Mountain West Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, successfully implemented strategies to organize and conduct hands-on, skill-oriented training, providing students with ample opportunity to practice and solve problems.
In an editorial for the American Journal of Public Health, Ms. Mona Arora, principal research specialist and colleagues at the University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public health, examine the use of experiential learning in the area of emergency preparedness training for medical countermeasure dispensing.
Jurisdictions regularly host in-person public health emergency preparedness training aimed at improving practitioners’ response skills; however, existing training approaches remain relatively ineffective in enhancing capabilities that transfer to the field. This is particularly true for medical countermeasure (MCM) dispensing training.
[Photo: Ms. Mona Arora]
MCM dispensing is complex and requires inter- and intra-agency collaboration for proper planning and implementation, timely intervention and control measures, the communication of situational awareness and risk information, and the coordination of and support for response activities with diverse health care and other system partners.
To meet the federally advisable mandate of the delivery of MCMs to affected communities within 48 hours, health departments are turning to alternate dispensing models (e.g., closed, drive-through points of dispensing [PODs]) to increase dispensing efficiency. Partnerships with community-based organizations such as schools, businesses, and hospitals have resulted in various types of MCM dispensing training relevant to diverse audiences.
The design of MCM training that engages learners while providing skills and abilities to effectively plan and implement POD operations must be rooted in adult-learning theory and instructive pedagogy strategies. Furthermore, alignment of competencies and capabilities ensures that the desired training outcomes are achieved, which include enhanced knowledge of planning elements, the ability to interpret a medical screening form, the ability to determine the layout of a POD, and, most importantly, thinking critically, solving problems, and making decisions to mitigate problems arising at a dispensing site.
Passive learning has minimal impact on learners’ knowledge and awareness of guidelines, plans, and procedures for MCM dispensing. Traditional breakout sessions may allow discussion on specific planning elements (e.g., communication, security), but they lack opportunities for hands-on practice, where, for example, the learner can unpack a POD Go-Kit or set up a dispensing site. Although these activities are resource intensive, we can no longer afford to be complacent with traditional learning approaches that do not adequately increase the competency of our preparedness workforce.
Experiential adult learning offers a promising solution for the transfer of knowledge from the classroom to the real-world setting. Experiential adult learning provides a framework that starts by engaging the adult learner, thus requiring a curriculum design team versed in adult-learning principles to develop training that is relevant, experiential, and problem based.
In practice, the use of experiential adult learning in training is not novel. Drills and tabletop exercises are used to evaluate and familiarize staff with plans and procedures; however, these activities are often designed in isolation, with minimal awareness of what is imperative, valuable, and relevant to the learner, and they may lack considerations for ensuring that all training and exercises build on previous work, ignoring the learner’s current understanding of topics covered. Experiential adult learning considers these issues and is appropriate for building skills-based preparedness capabilities.
“Experiential Adult Learning: A Pathway to Enhancing Medical Countermeasures Capabilities“; American Journal of Public Health, Online: November 2018; Mona Arora, Brenda Granillo, Tanyha K. Zepeda and Jefferey L. Burgess.