Spotlight on digital transformation at St John Ambulance

First aid skills have traditionally been taught face to face by St John Ambulance, with good reason. But due to coronavirus the charity quickly transformed to a successful blended approach. In an interview with LNTV, Andrew New, Head of Education and Training Products at St John Ambulance, explains how almost 40,000 people have used its new range of digital resources to upskill.

“This year has been an interesting journey for us, since we’ve taken training in a very hands-on practical skill and turned it into a digital format. This has been something we’ve been wanting to do for some time. But, as you can imagine, our volunteers, and the people that we work with, struggled to understand how you can deliver such a practical skill through a digital format. So in the past, there was very little interest, or take up, for such a product.”

Obviously things changed quite quickly, and we had to change the way that we interacted with our customers to be able to meet a variety of needs – from essential services like the NHS, schools, power plants and utilities. 

Focus on the end result
The key thing that we did first was we really focused on ensuring that we were all ‘joined up’ within our organisation: that we had all our key stakeholders working together, that everyone understood what we wanted to achieve and was focused on achieving the goal – of a digital approach to first aid. So that meant bringing everyone together from our clinical teams, to the representatives we work with in the NHS, to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and internally our digital teams as well as customer services.

We then started to break down life-saving skills to identify what could actually be delivered digitally, and obviously the knowledge aspects are quite easy to get across.

Curating and creating a learning journey
We had previously invested in some interactive technology that allowed us to produce eLearning modules. For example, we have an interactive module that takes people through the steps for the recovery position and CPR. We are even able to assess depth and rate with regard to CPR. So we already had those assets, and I think that was important, to look at what we had in place already. To create that learning journey we curated resources, ensured people were able to use them, and then identified the gaps to build something quite quickly to fill them in.

Now obviously, there are some practical elements that we still have to do in the classroom. We do that in a socially responsible way, that is Covid secure. But it was quite surprising, when we actually delved into it, how much of the skills you could deliver digitally, with interactive technology.

Evaluating success
Internally, when we’re training our own volunteers to go into hospitals and support the NHS – in the Nightingale hospitals, for example – introducing eLearning has reduced time in the classroom by a third. So we were two-thirds in the classroom, a third online.

Externally, for example for our workplace first aiders and teachers in schools, we were able to reduce that down to 50%. So half the time is in the classroom, half online. That’s because we’re dealing with trained first aiders, so this was about refreshing their skills, to keep their first aid knowledge up-to-date.

Everyone was extremely receptive to this new way of training. To put this into context, we saw registrations for free online first aid training go up from just under 1,500 to about 39,000 within two months. That was for our external customers, so teachers, first aiders in the workplace, people working in emergency services, logging in and accessing first aid courses and materials. 

We had about 12,000 people access our childcare modules, which are aimed at schools and early years settings. Almost 40,000 people have accessed the whole package, which includes workplace first aid, mental health first aid, a whole gambit of skills. We know that a lot of people were doing DIY over lockdown, so we also provided training in first aid skills that were related to DIY injuries, with about 17,000 people completing that.

We found that 80% of users said they would feel confident responding to a first aid incident following the completion of our digital courses. They increased their confidence and felt ready and able to step in when required. So a great response!

Responding to a crisis
During this time, the Department for Education (DfE) had been concerned that it would struggle to keep schools open without first aid coverage. So our provision of online materials directly to schools was welcomed by regulators, the DfE, local authorities and school leaders, and they were able to continue to provide their services with high quality first aid in place. 

We’ve provided eLearning as a stop gap, in response to a crisis, and we feel there’s a space for blended learning as a way forward. We have designed and devised a whole series of Covid-secure training for the face-to-face aspect. This allows people to do something like talk through the steps to put someone into the recovery position, for example. So they’re still being assessed on actual skills, proving to a trainer that they know what to do in that situation.”

Michelle Parry-Slater, who regularly carries out interviews for her charity spotlight on LNTV, commented: “It’s just fantastic to blend your learning in such a way that’s responsive to the needs of the whole country right now. It’s just excellent, and I just think there’s no excuses anymore for corporate learning and development to say ‘we have to be in the classroom’. 

“If St. John Ambulance can cope with it. Then all of us can cope with it. So, I encourage you to take the innovation that Andrew has described, to go back to your work places and see what you can do to make sure that your staff have got what they need in order to continue with their work.” 

Find out more about eLearning at St John Ambulance on our website here. 

You can also find out more about previous LNTV spotlight interviews by Michelle Parry-Slater and the following charities by clicking on the links below:

About Andrew New

Andrew New is the Head of Education and Training Products at St John Ambulance. This story is an edited version of the transcript of Andrew’s interview with Michelle Parry-Slater, which will be livestreamed on LNTV on 15th October. 


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