COVID-19 Response: How Do You Bring a Training Program Online in the Middle of a Crisis?
June 16, 2020

Training has always been a critical part of social work. Now, as service providers worldwide continue to work with people despite the new challenges of COVID-19, it is especially important that we continue to share information and build up best practices.  As it became clear that group gatherings were no longer safe, we knew we had to find a way to continue to provide our trainings. So, we set out on the challenge of taking our training program online, and we’re proud to say that it has been a success!

The CUCS Training Institute is known for providing interactive, hands-on training and continuing education credits for professionals on a wide-range of topics. We are now offering our training courses in a webinar format, including Trauma and Its Aftermath, Understanding Special Needs, Decompensation and Relapse: A Proactive Lens, and other critical topics, with new webinars being continuously added. Social workers are even able to earn their Continuing Education credits (CEs) through these online courses. See the full list of our online trainings and sign up here.  

We sat down with Institute Director Jennifer Gholston to learn all about how our team developed and launched our online training program in just a few weeks.

How did you start putting together this program?

We put together a small work group of some trainers and people who are involved in training and had them research the nuts and bolts of everything.  We also got in touch with our board member, Ted Weissberg, who had business experience in online training.  He walked us through some of our concerns and connected us with an expert in the field who gave us a checklist.  We researched all the different capacities that were out there to do online trainings. We already have a training management system, so we needed something that would be compatible with that. We had been using Zoom for our LA training program, and had some knowledge of it, so we decided to use Zoom for our other trainings as well. We were even able to integrate Zoom into our registration platform, so that when a user signs up, they immediately receive the Zoom link.

What steps did you take for the team to become comfortable running an online training?

As we were in the learning process, we gave everybody a Zoom buddy. Your Zoom buddy was somebody from the smaller work group who had a little bit more knowledge on it. Basically, we practiced together. We also held a lot of Zoom meetings with rotating facilitation, so that everyone could practice their hosting skills—from sending out invites to being able to run PowerPoints to managing the group. Anything you would have to do as the host. We moved all of our meetings onto Zoom, including our morning and afternoon check-ins, so we were able to practice at any time we could. We even had a Zoom happy hour and a Zoom farewell party for our intern. Anything to really make it feel second-nature and integrated into a regular work lifestyle.

What other innovations are we using to help the trainings go smoothly?

We noticed in the beginning that it was helpful to have a support for the host. So, the trainer will be presenting, but there is also another trainer who is their helper. The helper manages the chat, answers any questions the users have, helps troubleshoot, etc.  This leaves that presenter free to focus on the material. For instance, our trainer Jim’s Wi Fi went down the other day in the middle of a training, and the other trainer was there to keep up the PowerPoint, while I was able to help him from the back end, until Jim was able to get back on.

What lessons did we learn from this process?

Teamwork was the key. Having multiple perspectives allowed us to troubleshoot and problem solve. We are a pretty vocal bunch, so people really were able to talk. We included everybody, including the program managers, the trainers, and the admin staff; so really, it was a full team effort.

The Institute staff really showed, such professionalism, flexibility, and grit, even where it was a really easy time to give up. And they did it. They could have given up or felt overwhelmed and they didn’t—they really just dug in. I am grateful to have such dedicated, committed colleagues that were willing to create a new business model in a matter of weeks so that we could still get our trainings out to the frontline staff.

What are the differences between these online trainings and the in-person trainings?

We are continuing to experiment with the best formats for particular groups and learning styles. Some of our trainings remained full-day sessions, and we broke some trainings down into two half day sessions. (So, instead of a training being 9:30 to 3:30, we have it from 9:30 to 12, two days in a row.) The team also did some updates to make the trainings more user-friendly on an online platform. For example, we are able to do some quizzes online, so a lot of the interactive nature of the trainings is still there.

We have not changed the curriculum, but we have enhanced it with information around how our world is different. Sometimes the conversation is a little bit different as new things come out. We are constantly paying attention to the CDC and news outlets for real information that is going affect us and our clients in this period of change. We can customize the conversation with the questions that are being brought forth. For instance, how are you going to use this when you’re not face-to-face with a client or when you are face-to-face, wearing a mask, six feet apart? How do you still utilize practical counseling skills? What is going to feel different?

Why is training an invaluable thing to be doing during this time?

We still have a very important job to do. We have to make sure we are meeting all our clients’ needs. We need to be well-equipped to work with them, regardless of being over a phone or standing six feet apart. The environment in which we are doing the work may be changing, but we still really need those foundational skills so that we are providing the best services possible to our clients. We need to have a really packed toolbox to be able to do that. You still need to know how to utilize motivational interviewing, you still need to be able to identify signs of somebody decompensating. It’s different, but you still need those basic skills. We are really happy to be able to still bring these best practices to the forefront and to the people who are still working with clients.

The amazing thing about training is your reach. You are not working one-on-one with a client, you are working with all of the case managers and clinical coordinators, all of frontline staff. So you have such a bigger reach. Trainings are essential, just in a different way.

To support our work keeping New Yorkers healthy, safe, and housed, donate to the CUCS COVID Relief Fund.