Let’s Talk about Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions…
eLearning is gaining ground across the UK as a preferred method for training and ongoing performance support, but is it being embraced within the pharmaceutical sector? Smart eLearning’s Samantha Vanderpal looks at trends within the Pharmaceutical industry, and what it might mean for the delivery of training and performance support in the future. Pharmaceutical eLearning Solutions, are they right for you?
Chances are, considering the intense and persistent amendments to the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, the precise nature of its products, speed of research, and various go-to-market models, training and development is an ongoing concern. Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions have become the latest BOOM in the industry, and everyone is jumping on board!
Increasingly, both here in the UK and worldwide, organisations are using eLearning and supplementary components to train and assess their workforce. By eLearning, I refer to the use of any technology across the learning process, primarily for delivery of content, but also including tests and ongoing assessment in addition to management of learning content (so that it can, for instance, be easily updated). A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 60% of organisations have increased their use of eLearning in the past two years. Those who had not previously leveraged eLearning are rapidly investing in their own custom eLearning and we expect to see this trend continue.
Here at Smart eLearning, we have been meeting frequently with stakeholders who are overflowing with ideas on how to reach their global workforce, and who had never before realised how an eLearning solution can be their vehicle to organisational excellence. Just in the last six months, four global (and one up and coming) brands have partnered with Smart eLearning because we are one of the leading consultancies and specialists in the pharmaceutical eLearning Solutions, process and product training. We have over a decade of experience in healthcare and pharmaceutical eLearning and curriculums. Smart eLearning and the team have been producing computer-based training, pharmaceutical eLearning solutions and assessments for the three largest pharmaceutical companies in the industry – Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Bayer.
So what is attracting product and brand managers to Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions over traditional training?
In short, it’s providing a whole new set of tools at their disposal for supporting the product sales team, and from this success, we have certainly seen a steady rise in interest for more ways to apply the same principles to more core areas of the business.
But, of course, access to new tools and an available new channel do not mean eLearning is necessarily appropriate. We asked a selection of learning and development managers and sales representatives within the pharmaceutical industry about how they use eLearning, when it is (most) effective and what changes they anticipate within the industry. This forms the basis of our talks when engaging with clients expressing an interest in pharmaceutical eLearning. We are firm believers in that just because a product saves you money, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Here at Smart eLearning, we present alternatives in terms of budget, technology and delivery to ensure that organisational objectives are correctly supported.
Advantages of eLearning
So when we asked those in the pharmaceutical industry what makes eLearning work, those we interviewed overwhelmingly highlighted the same advantages. They said that eLearning:
- presents a consistent message
- is flexible and rapid to deliver
- supplements other learning
- assists in record-keeping.
Consistency of message
Whereas in classroom training there is the risk that individual trainers can emphasise or deliver differing information, eLearning provides a consistent message to everyone. Learning and development managers told us that eLearning can be particularly effective where the same information needs to be delivered to a large group of learners, for example, in induction training. Lindsey Wells, Learning Technology Manager at Janssen Cilag UK, cited their 2008 Foundation Academy programme that has been benchmarked by the organisation and will be modelled across Janssen Cilag Europe in the near future.
Speed and flexibility
ELearning shortens the time required in the classroom, so that learners do not have to spend as much time away from their ‘real’ work. One Learning & Development Director told us that 30% of training in his company has shifted to the ‘virtual’ classroom, saving travel costs and allowing for increased productivity. He described how, in the past, a new sales rep would have spent two weeks in the classroom, now the format is four two-hour eLearning sessions, interspersed with time in the field and one day in a classroom. Not only has the training time reduces, but the learners have time to review and consolidate their learning repeating it if necessary while remaining productive. He considers this a more cost-effective way to train staff than a 100% face-to-face approach.
Supplements other learning
One training manager told us that learners need four or five exposures to the same information to absorb it, so eLearning is the perfect complement to textbooks, clinical papers and the classroom. Another Learning & Development Manager said that eLearning is particularly effective for rudimentary, self-check quizzes that help learners test their knowledge. He also mentioned the advantage of self-paced learning, for users to dip in and out of, and to re-visit and repeat o multiple devices when they feel they need to.
A global healthcare company told us that eLearning is blended into their entire global learning programme, so that learners receive printed manuals and a password to the learning management system (LMS) at the outset: they are trained to a core level before they come into the classroom. The company is proud of its Knowledge Portal that incorporates self-paced learning modules, plus articles, videos, an interactive “ask a question” facility and games with a competitive element where learners are able to achieve a bronze, silver, gold or platinum badge depending on their pass rate and share their scores on the company’s social media platform to incorporate social learning. The general consensus was that eLearning adds value by supplementing understanding and aiding revision.
Assists in record-keeping
With the pharmaceutical industry’s level of regulation, it’s no surprise that keeping training records ranks high among the advantages of eLearning experienced by learning and development professionals. eLearning management systems allow companies to keep training records and capture information about learners’ achievements. The ability to record and print off results of assessments for auditing is extremely helpful, according to more than one training manager.
Limitations of eLearning
The Training Manager of one leading biopharmaceutical company told us that one-to-one training was the main approach for his relatively small number of reps selling niche therapies, but that he viewed eLearning as an additional resource enhancing face-to-face training. eLearning at his company includes assessment quizzes and one particular therapy area has developed a self-paced learning zone, consisting of several modules and including videos from doctors, which is continually updated with the latest clinical research.
Simon White, Learning and Development Manager of Janssen Cilag pointed out that the limited shelf-life of training content can be an issue. Keeping materials up-to-date is all-important and it can be a challenge to achieve this within a realistic cost-benefit framework, he said. The very nature of Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions means the content has to be custom-built and local language variations for product training are often necessary. Any effective LMS must be easy to update in-house and be supported by a committed, trained team of people.
Simon White has found success using Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions for therapy areas which can be shared. For example, he might commission an anatomy and physiology module that supports several products, rather than discrete product training for a small sales team. He added that competitor and market information is very dynamic and therefore still tends to be covered in the classroom
The future of Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions
eLearning will never be the sole provider of training within an organisation, but it is a significant component in learning programmes and, universally in our respondents’ opinions, leads to a higher level of retention than classroom learning alone. With ever-increasing availability of eLearning tools and ICT infrastructure, and a corresponding increase in learners’ familiarity with them, the prevalence of eLearning will increase.
The training manager at one global healthcare company is sharing best practice across its different business divisions, spreading the word about eLearning with less mature divisions. Another Learning & Development Director, who described eLearning as thoroughly embedded in his company’s product training, says his company is refining its choice of technologies.
The good news, Andrew Vanderpal Director of Development at Smart eLearning says, is that the eLearning of the future will be ultimately more accessible. “Leveraging technologies already being used in our everyday lives means that accessing learning can and will become as regular as posting a status update, sending a text or checking an email. Smartphones, tablets, and even TVs are capable of displaying learning content that can be interactive, the biggest change we will see is a shift in mindsets. We’re developing a culture of knowledge and it’s growing quicker than ever! For the pharmaceutical industry, it means that every member of the workforce from management to sales reps will be able to access Pharmaceutical eLearning solutions from their smartphones at the airport, or while travelling on a train.”
The latest evolution in eLearning is companies’ use of collaborative Web 2.0 tools, such as instant messaging, wikis and blogs, for user-generated content and online discussion. There has been, generally, a huge increase in the use of ‘social networking’ through sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and other Web 2.0 content exchanges, such as Flickr and YouTube. The ready availability of such technologies is beginning to impact how organisations approach eLearning, according to Howard Hills, who conducted the 2009 Towards Maturity Benchmark Report on business’ use of learning technologies. (Towards Maturity helps organisations improve the impact of learning technologies in the workplace. For more information, please go to www.towardsmaturity.org.)