Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview with Sharon Brothers, aQuire Training Solutions: Interview with E-Learning Innovators Series

Health care for the elderly is of deep concern to millions of families, as populations age, and younger generations are pulled in many directions, or "sandwiched." Finding competent and compassionate care for elderly family members can be a very difficult challenge. Knowing that the professionals who work in an assisted living facility are well-trained is important. Home health care professionals who would like to specialize in health care for the elderly, or who need to update their skills can now get training online, thanks to aQuire Training Solutions. Welcome to an interview with Sharon Brothers, President and CEO.

1. What is your name and your affiliation?
My name is Sharon Brothers and I’m the President and CEO of aQuire Training Solutions.

2. What is your relation to e-learning?
Our company is an e-learning company dedicated to supporting and training individuals who care for the elderly. I certainly didn’t start out in e-learning, however. For over 20 years I owned, operated and consulted for senior living communities: retirement centers, assisted living and nursing facilities.

Although I’ve always been passionate about education, I only began to focus on e-learning when we began to look for ways to train caregivers all over the U.S. (and the world) without having to be constantly on the road. Even then, we could only train small groups at a time. To achieve universal access to the best possible caregiver training, we began to realize, meant learning everything we could learn about e-learning, and launching this new company, aQuire Training Solutions.

3. What kinds of e-learning are you involved with now?
Since we first began offering a few e-learning courses in 2003, we’ve grown a lot. We now offer a variety of training programs online, ranging from courses for staff working in assisted living and home care companies, to pre-employment training for individuals who wish to become caregivers to a loved one, or as a profession. We now consider ourselves among the small group of e-learning experts in the field of online training for caregiving professionals.

Our newest business division is a licensed career school, the Institute for Professional Care Education ( Through this school we offer a Personal Care Aide Certification which we believe will set the standard for new caregiver training in this country. We’re working with long term care insurance companies (who will typically reimburse for this training) and a number of other programs to make this training widely available to people who provide care to an elder.

One very interesting tidbit of information is that training, especially for family caregivers, has been demonstrated to measurably reduce caregiver depression and stress, and allow the family to continue to provide care for up to 2 years longer than they could have without the training.

4. How can e-learning train individuals who have to engage in hands-on caregiving?
We’re strong believers in blended learning – in gaining knowledge and values through comprehensive e-learning courses, and blending that with classroom based practice for the hands’ on skills training.

Currently, we offer the only approved online Certified Nursing Assistant course in the state of Oregon - but we only offer the classroom equivalent. We partner with other training providers who provide the lab practice and the clinical work experience components, for a highly successful training program. Our training partners include hospitals, community colleges, nursing homes and career schools throughout the state. This program is helping many, many individuals take the first step into careers in nursing or health care who would otherwise not be able to access the training, mostly due to time constraints for classroom based programs.

We’re somewhat mirroring this program for the new Personal Care Aide Certification course, too. After a person completes the comprehensive 40 hour online course, he or she can optionally add an 8 hour skills training component to practice the hands’ on skills needed for caregiving. This added component can really help build confidence, not to mention solid skills, for people new to caregiving. We’re piloting this program currently in Oregon, California and Arizona, and plan to launch it nationwide in the coming months.

5. What is your philosophy of learning? 
I’d a real believer in adult learning principles. Learning must not only be interesting and engaging, but it must also be grounded to life experience or real world practice. Our own in-house principles, too, are important: the work caregivers do is hard, often thankless work. Learning shouldn’t be another hard task – it should be fun, lively and engaging.

It should have lots of stories (because we love stories) and it should make the caregiver want to learn more – and help her easily see how to apply what she’s learned in real life.

6. Do you see potential for your training to be done via mobile learning?
It sure seems like mobile learning is the next frontier in e-learning – although it will probably be even more focused and targeted than current courses. We’re looking for ways to begin to transition some of the basic concepts we teach online to a mobile learning approach, and will no doubt be offering at least some of our training in this way in the year to come.

7. Please list three books you've found inspiring.
I love to read – anything from a great detective story (I love the Steig Larsson series, "The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played with Fire "), to books like "Blink" (Malcolm Gladwell) and "They’re YOUR parents, too: How siblings can survive their parents’ aging without driving each other crazy" by Francine Russo, a wonderful woman I’ve recently gotten to know.

Of course,
"Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" is a favorite of mine, but for those of a more mature age, not wanting quite so much relationship drama, another book I’d highly recommend along the same vein is Alice Steinbach’s "Without Reservations." Inspiring and wonderful.

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