The Scoop: Online Field Education and Placement

11/12/18   |  
Mallory Schindler

Bringing Field Education Programs Online

The online program landscape is ever-changing to meet the needs of the field and its students.  For many Universities that are trying to positively impact the workforce and deliver graduates, they are quick to put an MBA online, but often come to a screeching stop when faced with the complexities of doing the same for a program that requires field/clinical education.  As the market stands today, the advanced practice, allied health and counseling fields are in crisis due to an aging and exhausted workforce.  This isn't just a United States problem, it's a global one, plaguing all of Keypath's regions including; Australia, Canada and the U.K.

When we initially began helping our partners solve for industry shortages, we worked backwards and asked the challenging questions-- probing at quality, efficiency and connectivity at both a student and University level.  We looked at competitor solutions and improved them; enabling us to grow programs and tailor our services to a wider audience of Universities throughout the world.  

The Questions

In any given week, I receive a countless number of questions from prospective partners and educators about my department and how it all "works".  In an effort to shed some light on this emerging service in online higher education, I figured what better way to get the message out than to highlight them in my first Keypath Placement blog entry.

The Scoop

You hear folks often refer to a problem as the tip of the iceberg when referencing a small, perceptible part of a much larger and complex system-- well it's a great analogy when talking placement.  Placement requires so much more than what meets the eye when students are completing their field hours.  In the spirit of innovation and transforming the old to reach a larger audience, I am going to ditch the iceberg visual and make it more enticing by using a ice cream cone for mapping the online placement model.

Placement Support Services new approach ' the ice cream cone '

WARNING: There is a high likelihood that if you continue reading, you will simultaneously crave our placement service suite and an over-sized waffle cone.

By far, the most frequently asked question I receive is: How does it all work online?  The short answer is it doesn't. Field Education provides students a safe learning environment, where they can immerse themselves in their future field, be challenged by real-life cases and build further on the core knowledge, skills, and values they have learned in the classroom.  As much as it would be convenient to have it all online, it would be at the detriment of the student in preparing them for their future.   Programs with field education use a hybrid model; building knowledge base and competencies in the online classroom and then practicing their skills in their local communities under the direction of seasoned practitioners.  This allows students to stay, practice and eventually secure jobs in their hometown.  Online programs are a win-win for both students and the community's access to care.  The students save money by not having to uproot their family and move to attend a quality program and the communities/hospitals gain an engaged worker that will likely stay in the area, promoting local access and workforce retention.

The follow up to the first question is typically: how do Universities ensure the quality is the same for online programs compared to that of campus-based versions when they aren't in person to supervise the experience?  The beauty of partnering with Keypath Education is our "rolodex" of sites nationwide far surpasses the campus-based program's number of relationships.  To ensure quality, we use the University's campus-based site requirements rubric to vet the sites nationally and conduct regular assessments to ensure the objectives and competencies are being met.  The outcome is that the campus and online student are exposed to the same field learning, regardless of the campus they attend.  Relationships are the most important component in securing quality sites, which is why we have a dedicated team, whose sole job is to build and cultivate agreements for our students.

If you've had any exposure to placement, you know that sourcing sites is the messiest component to placement, especially when there is inadequate staffing or students are on their own in finding sites.  We inserted smart technology, process, data and staffing to change the process from just messy to messy good (complex but under control).  We compare this service to the delicious last few bites of a cone, you will eat the melted runoff in the bottom of the cone if it is contained and not going to drip and cause problems, because it's simply too good to miss.  Placement, when correctly structured and contained, is the same.  It is too good to miss, because it transforms a program and student experiences from mediocre to exceptional. 

Two additional questions we are asked regularly is: what makes placement so complex and does having an online program negatively impact a campus program?  The complexities of placement can be bucketed into three categories staffing, compliance and technology.  

When budgets are tight, staffing is one of the first things to go, forcing staff to wear multiple hats vs. one.  This is a good path until the school choses to grow (which many will in the coming years).  As a program scales nationally; small understaffed teams won't be able to maintain compliance, placement scheduling, immersions and site relationships using paper or excel files.  Our advanced service suite acts as the protective cone that holds all the core contents (requirements, compliance, communications, technology) and supports the placement cycle.  Rather than harming a campus program, online programs shed light on archaic and inefficient processes that make compliance and tracking difficult and are able to offer a more diverse student population and a fresh approach; all benefitting the campus program vs. harming it.  The cherry on top with improved process is that the University brand grows and is known for being a leader in helping curb the healthcare workforce shortage.

Finally, what do I believe makes a successful placement?  The question is asked typically by Universities to get a feel for our department competency and to assess if we will be a like-minded partner in the placement process.  It really isn't about what I believe that makes a successful placement, rather, it's about the preparedness.  If a student is meeting the competencies and objectives set by the school on time and to full completion, that is a successful placement.  The placement team's job is to source sites and facilitate student success by keeping students informed, compliant and prepared for each phase of their placement cycle.  Our unwavering focus is on quality and relationships with the students and sites, which goes together like waffle cones and ice cream.

To learn more about Keypath's end-to-end suite of services, which include support for clinical or field placement, please contact us here.