Hybrid Training: a scalable model for delivering hands-on training to dispersed learners

2020-03-10T03:57:42Z (GMT) by Christina Hall
Australia has a diverse array of government agencies, universities and research institutes undertaking bioscience research. Biologists and bioinformaticians are distributed widely throughout the country, and are sometimes isolated in small research groups or remote locations. A novel training delivery methodology was developed to service the urgent needs for bioinformatics skills in a cost and time efficient way. The method, which combines an expert Lead Trainer delivering a presentation online in conjunction with a hands-on interactive practical session at multiple venues supported by trained local Facilitators, is ideally suited to the delivery of simultaneous training workshops around Australia. Referred to as the ‘hybrid training model’ the scalable method combines the advantages of webinar presentations with some valuable components of in-person group training.

Australian BioCommons’ hybrid training events regularly cater for more than 100 participants at up to 9 venues. Each participant brings their own laptop to a venues hosted by one or more local Facilitators who are responsible for the local logistics including room bookings and WIFI connections. Critically, Facilitators are themselves trained in the workshop materials ahead of time. Presentations from the Lead Trainer are viewed on a communal screen, with each participant simultaneously completing guided hands-on activities. Live camera feeds from each venue help participants to feel they are part of a larger community, and allow the Lead Trainer to observe room dynamics in real time. An online shared ‘Discussion Board’ is active during the session, available for participants to interact across venues, asking questions about their own specific challenges or interests. Peers and experts alike join the discussion and answer technical questions. The 3-4 hour events are structured to enable successful completion of exercises and to ensure nobody is left behind or rushed through tasks. The recording of the training events, presentations, tutorials and Discussion Boards are made available for perpetual reference after the event has concluded.

Engagement with skilled Facilitators is key to the success of each training event, and the availability of training at particular locations is dependent on identifying a willing volunteer. Group size is also determined by Facilitator availability, with an approximate ratio of 1:10 Facilitators to participants strongly encouraged. Experienced and active trainers and researchers themselves, the Facilitators have been a valuable source of feedback on the development of the model, as well as being integral local event organisers and workshop helpers. They have been enthusiastic in their support of the hybrid training model and its ability to supplement their own local training programs. The delivery method allows regional universities with only a few participants to have direct access to training expertise on the same footing as larger universities.

Online evaluation surveys show that close to 100% of all participants think ‘this was a useful workshop that enhanced my knowledge and skills’, and that ‘the format of the exercises and activities enhanced participants’ learning and increased their level of skills’.

The hybrid method of training delivery provides an efficient way to reach many venues simultaneously, and is easily extensible to new sites. The events are particularly valued by regional locations that may not otherwise have access to the depth and breadth of expertise offered by national events. This methodology fosters the development of a community of people interested in bioinformatics training and can help to elevate the profile of local Facilitators and domain experts who participate. The recording of each event’s presentations, cameras and links to materials allows for continued use by participants who trained on the familiar environment of their own laptop. By posting these resources online, the content is also suitable for self-guided use by the public.

The hybrid training methodology is an important feature of the Australian BioCommons training program. Its ability to efficiently enable training of dispersed learners is compelling. The potential to extend this format to incorporate a larger multi-national audience with shared geographic challenges is currently being investigated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Name: Dr Christina Hall
Bio: Christina is the Training and Communications Manager of the Australian BioCommons. In developing and implementing a national program of bioinformatics training events and resources, Christina builds on similar previous roles for Melbourne Bioinformatics and the EMBL Australia Bioinformatics Resource. Her research career in plant pathology was interspersed with several science communications roles, including museum public program management. Christina’s professional motivation is to enhance scientific progress through supporting Australian biologists to do their best science.

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