Rachel Jones, Dean of Curriculum, Instructional Design and Technology Ultimate Medical Academy
Having the right soft skills to support and manage patients – from the front office staff to the physicians themselves – is important for patient outcomes as well as the success of a practice. Positive healthcare experiences contribute to each patient’s peace of mind and overall health and wellness. A patient’s communications preferences, job, home life and social circumstances all play a role in their everyday health decisions. These also can influence a patient’s or caregiver’s choice of healthcare provider.
It used to be said that “soft skills” such as empathy and cultural competency could not be learned, that a person either had them or they didn’t. That isn’t the case. Those abilities can be learned and cultivated, and with today’s technology, opportunities for soft skill development are more accessible than ever.
"By creatively using technology, we can build more immersive, engaging learner experiences to teach and strengthen the types of skills that provide the healthiest patient experiences"
Soft skills are especially important for healthcare workers. They use them when they check in a patient for their doctor visit or schedule a procedure, they draw on empathy, emotional intelligence, verbal communication and intercultural fluency. Assisting a patient with filling a prescription or helping them understand their insurance policy (which can be an emotional landmine for many people) involves professionalism, critical thinking, digital fluency, personal accountability, collaboration and communication.
Online Learning Management Systems Can Effectively Deliver Soft Skills Education
In my experience, the best way to teach soft skills is by layering workforce readiness competencies identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) along with core courses for content and hard skills, such as general education and coding.
To teach students- particularly distance learners - soft skills and career readiness, institutions are doing their own competency mapping, producing custom resources and adopting outside resources from publishers and open-source content that can be incorporated into a platform and software.
Instructional designers who develop curriculum look to a combination of existing software and customizable tools to provide an efficient way to help students solve problems, complete tasks and accomplish goals. Pre-packaged or customized modules enable students to interact with peers and instructors. Online discussion forums offer students a video, scenario or problem to which they are asked to respond, and they expose students to different ideas in a community of learners.
Learning management systems (LMS) enable educators to design intuitive, seamless learning experiences for their students. These virtual learning environments provide web-based server software that includes course management, customizable open architecture and scalable design to integrate with student information systems and authentication protocols. Programs like Storyline and Adobe Captivate are simple to use for building mobile-ready projects that jumpstart soft-skill course development using slides or quick-start modules. For example, Captivate can convert an existing PowerPoint into a video with interactions and knowledge-check questions to be evaluated in real time.
No matter which LMS or combination of digital tools is employed, today’s educators can develop customized, experiential content for students. In turn, students can easily submit video or written assignments and receive quick turnaround feedback. For example, the student may be presented with a branching scenario that tests how effective they are at greeting and checking a patient in for their doctor appointment. In a simulated mock interview, students receive questions and must respond. The most effective systems provide immediate feedback. Explaining why the responses are correct or incorrect avoids students moving forward with misconceptions.
EdTech for Soft Skills Offers Career Advancement
As healthcare continues to get more complex and the job market gets more competitive, it is essential for talent to level up in their soft skills if they want to advance. Moving forward, more attention will need to be paid to work-from-home-related soft skills; for instance, a module with practical application about setting up a home office, team-building, managing people from a distance, and how to critically think and problem solve with other people when you work off site.
Increasing emphasis on digital learning for all employees should become part of the healthcare environment, particularly in intercultural fluency. One-time workshops rarely help build those skills. People need continual opportunities to learn and grow, and it is important to make sure there are ongoing professional development and refresher modules to help students and employees do just that.
Having tangible incentives for accomplishments, like badging or certificates that students can post on their LinkedIn profiles, can inspire real change within an organization. In a good badging system, the acquirement of badges must be valued and there should be opportunities for people to earn badges that are not easy for others to achieve.
By creatively using technology, we can build more immersive, engaging learner experiences to teach and strengthen the types of skills that provide the healthiest patient experiences.