eLearning helps keep England running during the pandemic

The power of eLearning to deliver training where and when it’s needed, and at speed and reach, has enabled St John Ambulance to meet some huge challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. With the support from the Charity Learning Consortium, St John has played its part in helping to keep workplaces and schools open, safe and healthy.

St John Ambulance provides a range of essential first aid training courses for a number of people, to equip them with general first aid knowledge and life saving skills. The coronavirus pandemic meant that Andrew New, Head of Education and Training Products, had to quickly rethink how to maintain continuity of learning, when face-to-face training had been severely curtailed and often suspended altogether.  

He rose to the challenge, quickly opening up access to an eLearning platform provided by the Charity Learning Consortium. St John Ambulance was already working with the Consortium, to provide resources to registered first aiders via a learning management system (LMS). This was launched by the charity in October 2019, to enhance the charity’s face to face training programme. Now it was rolled out to a much wider audience, giving everyone free, public access to the St John branded Online Learning Space

Keeping workplaces healthy
When the pandemic started to have an impact, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) recognised that delivering face-to-face first aid training would be incredibly difficult. First aiders have to recertify every three years, so the HSE extended certificates that were about to expire. St John Ambulance was understandably concerned about the large number of first aiders who would therefore be approaching requalification, perhaps without having the opportunity to practice life saving skills. Newer workplace first aiders might also need further training. 

To meet this challenge, the charity decided to make a series of bespoke, interactive eLearning modules available to the public. Anyone can now self-register on the Online Learning Space to access these. These eLearning modules let first aiders practice their skills online. Learners are taken through a step-by-step scenario and then have to test their skills, for example by getting the speed of compressions correct and putting people into the recovery position. As you work through the eLearning, knowledge questions test and confirm understanding.

The uptake has been overwhelming. At the end of March 2020 there were 1,700 registered first aiders using the eLearning platform. This shot up to almost 30,000 by early May. Many of these first aiders work for utility providers and delivery companies, and other essential services. These organisations were providing critical services to keep the country running, and their operations could only continue with high quality first aid knowledge and protection in the workplace.

Keeping school children safe
During the pandemic, schools have been asked to stay open to provide places of care for young people whose parents were essential workers. This meant school staff might have different responsibilities, caring for children in a wider age range than normal. The Department for Education was concerned that first aiders might not be trained to respond to all age groups. As schools moved to a rota system, they might also not have enough teachers who were trained in first aid to treat children.

Using the Moodle platform provided by the Consortium, St John Ambulance made a series of specific paediatric eLearning modules available to first aiders in schools. This meant that teachers who had previously been trained in adult first aid could go on to learn child protocols.

By early May, more than 9,000 first aiders based in schools had completed the eLearning modules. As a result, schools have been able to remain open to care for children of key workers. Without suitable first aid training and support, many would have been forced to shut.

Supporting mental health in the workplace
During Mental Health Awareness Week, 18-24 May, St John Ambulance has been promoting its first ever online mental health awareness conference. Held in June (15-19) the virtual conference features six speakers talking about topics related to mental health and the CoVid19 outbreak. 

This week is also Learning at Work Week (18-24 May) and the charity has released a new bespoke mental health first aid eLearning module. This will be publicly available on the St John Ambulance Online Learning Space. The eLearning module includes a step-by-step approach to looking after someone who’s having a mental health episode, as they are experiencing it. 

Research by St John Ambulance has shown that 61% of first aiders use their skills outside of work. It’s hoped that people who take the new mental health first aid eLearning course will apply what they’ve learned to lockdown situations at home, as well as work.   

Meeting future demand with blended learning
Like a lot of organisations, St John Ambulance is reflecting on how they might deliver first aid training in the future, beyond the current pandemic. Employers are increasingly interested in how online learning could support their first aid training needs.

Demand for eLearning has been phenomenal, and currently there are around 4,000 new registrations each week to the Online Learning Space. Using eLearning has been so successful, the charity is now looking at embedding blended learning into its training product portfolio, rather than just offering face to face training. 

The first programme to be converted to the new blended learning format will support those providing early years care or education services, who have to complete a two day paediatric training course. The two day face to face course will be converted to one day online and one short day in the classroom. The new format will enable people to complete eLearning in a safe environment. 

This blended approach reduces travelling and face-to-face time with others, but still includes all important classroom observation, where learners practice skills. If the pandemic lasts for some time, or returns, first aiders in workplaces and schools can access information and keep their skills up-to-date virtually, only going into a classroom to be assessed.

A two-day first aid requalification course is also due to be converted to the new blended format. Workplace first aiders have to attend this every three years, to upskill themselves and gain recertification. In the future, they will only need to attend a shorter face-to-face session for assessment.  

During the coronavirus pandemic, between 30,000 and 40,000 first aiders will not have requalified. It means this new format will be well-tested when everyone returns to work, as there will be a significant backlog of recertifications to manage. Every time lockdown has been extended, a similar number of people are added to the backlog. 

Meeting challenges with the support of the Charity Learning Consortium
St John Ambulance would not have been able to rise to these challenges without the support of the Charity Learning Consortium and the LMS it provides to its members. The Consortium’s
cloud infrastructure instantly scaled to keep delivering St John Ambulance’s remote learning, even as traffic dramatically increased. This accommodated a significant increase in registered users – from 1,700 to 30,000 – in a very short space of time. 

As Andrew explains: “As a charity, without this external support St John Ambulance would not have been able to manage the increase in bandwidth using its own resources. The support from the Charity Learning Consortium has been invaluable and has meant that both new eLearning, and rolling out public access to existing eLearning, could be launched very quickly. This has ensured that tens of thousands of people could reliably access first aid and mental health training during this unpredictable time.” 

Hitting the right spot with learners
St John Ambulance did some research a few years ago that revealed wide-spread scepticism about delivering first aid training online. Not only has it proved possible, using eLearning for first aid training has been incredibly popular.  

  • 85% of people assess the eLearning as ‘good’ or ‘very good’
  • 85% say they like how the eLearning was presented.  
  • 86% report that the Online Learning Space customised platform, managed by the Charity Learning Consortium, is either ‘moderately’ or ‘extremely user-friendly’ (the top two choices).
  • 78% said they would recommend the eLearning to others.  

Looking at the comments left by learners, people are also reporting that:

  • They now feel more confident in their first aid skills.
  • eLearning is a great way of providing them with continuous learning.
  • They would like to keep learning this way going forward.  

This reinforces the decision to use eLearning as part of a blended approach in the future.  

eLearning to the rescue
The power of eLearning to deliver training where and whenever its needed – and at speed and reach – has enabled St John Ambulance to meet some huge challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Coupled with support from the Charity Learning Consortium and the Moodle learning management system it provides, St John Ambulance has played its part in helping to keep workplaces and schools open, safe and healthy. This has paved the way for digital transformation, with the charity delivering first aid and paediatric training in a new blended format to face the future. 

Andrew New is the Head of Education and Training Products at St John Ambulance.


About St John Ambulance

St John Ambulance is the charity that steps forward in the moments that matter to save lives and support communities. The charity’s work has a tremendous positive impact in society. For example:

  • In 2019, St John Ambulance supported the NHS by treating 65,362 patients and transporting 64,057 people.
  • Every year around 300,000 people, including children and young people, learn how to save a life through St John Ambulance first aid training.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the charity has been supporting hospitals, ambulance trusts and community projects in the biggest mobilisation of its volunteers since WWII. Well over 100,000 hours of voluntary activity have been recorded since the beginning of April.

St John Ambulance has saved lives and relieved suffering for over 140 years, and – with the public’s support – will do so for decades to come. To find out more, including details of the charity’s emergency fundraising appeal visit: www.sja.org.uk

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