SwedishAmerican Health System: Importing Learning Processes

SwedishAmerican Health System, a nonprofit organization with 15 facilities in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, has to educate about 3,000 employees on new techniques and products in the field of […]

SwedishAmerican Health System, a nonprofit organization with 15 facilities in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, has to educate about 3,000 employees on new techniques and products in the field of medicine, changing government and industry relations, and company policies and procedures. The health care company’s structure and available resources for workforce learning present further challenges for Cheri Cornelius, SwedishAmerican’s director of employee and organizational development.

“We’re a very decentralized organization, so we have a small staff,” she said. “We have a training specialist, we have a human resources administrative assistant, and we have corporate faculty throughout the health system that support and help train for our programs.” Cornelius added that her team handles several learning and development functions within SwedishAmerican, including employee orientation, talent management, a corporate university and overall training content. “We’re limited with what we can do internally by the resources that we have. We’re trying to extend it as much as we can,” she explained.

To alleviate the burden of developing and delivering so many programs with such a small staff, Cornelius has turned to outsourcing various learning offerings to other organizations. For example, some employees go through Spanish-language classes at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., where the company is based. Also, SwedishAmerican has outsourced some of its management learning programs to training company Development Dimensions International.

However, the most significant area of outsourced employee education has been the organization’s increasing emphasis on using new learning technologies. For example, SwedishAmerican has scored some significant successes since it implemented GeoLearning’s Web-based GeoMaestro learning management system. The “lowest- hanging fruit” from usage of an LMS has been moving its annual Safety Fair, in which nearly the entire company participates, from on-site to online, Cornelius said.

“This was the first year we’d done our Safety Fair through online learning modules that were transitioned from our actual classroom courses,” she said. “Our first learning curve was with the Safety Fair. I think we had something like 96 percent or 97 percent of our 3,000 employees go through this online learning. That was major for us. Now we’re just building from there.”

“We had several big problems that we were looking to solve by outsourcing and purchasing a learning management system,” she added. “The first one was that we needed a system that would help us virtualize our library. We’ve really condensed and reduced that physical library, changed it to a learning center and many of our resources are now online through GeoLearning’s product library, which is a module they offer us.”

The LMS also has enhanced SwedishAmerican’s corporate university, Cornelius said. “This is our third year having a corporate university, and we actually just went online with that this past year. The LMS was the next step with that.” Since it was moved onto the LMS, employees have registered for nearly 33,000 courses, and the completion rate has increased to 99.7 percent.

“The biggest things that they’ve solved for us are the issues with access, because our health system is spread out in so many different areas with clinics and a large campus,” Cornelius said. “We reach several different regions. We had a lot of difficulty even getting people into training. Online training makes the learning more accessible and more just-in-time for people.”

In the wake of these successes, SwedishAmerican is planning to roll out new LMS-based online educational programs around a wide range of subjects and issues, including new employee orientation, diversity and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). “I think with most anything we’re going to do in the future—unless it can be done in the classroom with our internal trainers—we will try to outsource it and put it online,” Cornelius said. “If it’s something that can be done more efficiently by someone outside of the organization and we can reach more people, then this is what we need to be doing.”

Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at brians@clomedia.com.

April 2005 Table of Contents