University, Professional, and Community Site Training
As in most research projects, our team members were also employees of a larger entity—the university. The university has its own training that team members need as part of their employment, including orientation to the university and its policies (e.g., mission, vision, values, security, emergency response plan, employee benefits). It is important to anticipate this type of training for new employees since it is paid for with research funds and could last several days.
Beyond university orientation, other professional orientation training needs were discovered during the project. For example, while team members were allowed to address personal issues during scheduled breaks and lunch time, there was no clear guidance on how much time should be allotted for such activities, and some people extended their half-hour lunch break to >2 hours. Additionally, while their roles required them to have access to the internet, some features of the internet were found to be distracting to project staff and interrupted workflow and productivity.
In response to these issues, professional and workplace conduct guidelines were developed. Policy specifications were made that internet resources must be limited to work-related usage (e.g., limiting instant messaging and other pop-up programs), and that all non-emergency personal issues that could impact the scheduled work plan must receive prior approval from the project director. These guidelines were implemented to preserve team member productivity, maintain cost-efficiency, further develop the professionalism of our team members, and protect the progress of the project. These guidelines were met with very positive reactions by the research team who perceived them as measures to promote success of the research project and not as punitive actions. Existing macro-level quality assurance systems were also utilized to ensure research team productivity. For example, the university information technology (IT) department monitors and filters internet usage to identify usage that is outside the scope of employment duties (e.g., porn sites, music downloads). Routine updates of computer equipment by the IT department also provided us with details regarding office computers that contained non-work related software.
Community sites may also require formal or informal orientation of all research staff who will be working at their site locations. It is important to note that additional training time for the orientation of new research staff often time results in additional budgetary costs. Community site orientation is necessary to avoid conflicts (i.e., organizational culture clashes) and to ensure congruence between the research project and the site. At times it was also necessary for community and clinical site personnel to receive research orientation and research specific training. Trainings for clinical and community site personnel were arranged through a cooperative agreement with the site administrators and the principal investigator. The research team provided no-cost training (including lunch) to personnel from community and clinical sites. Community and clinical site employees’ time was paid for by their employers (from subcontract funds) and not through direct research funds.
Although little evidence was found on research team training in the nursing literature, there are indeed training needs beyond those generally listed in the job description that are important to the success of research projects. For example, the PI felt strongly that human subject protections, including team members’ responsibilities related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), should be highlighted as major training topics. The highest priority training for any research staff must be on ethical considerations and implications for human participants. This training must be completed and competency achieved before a team member begins any substantive involvement in the research project.
There is evidence in the literature that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention interventions with sound theoretical frameworks are more effective in changing behavior than those that lack sound theoretical bases (Albarracin, Gillette, Earl, Glasman, Durantini, & Ho, 2005
). A recent review of similar intervention research with adolescent girls (Morrison-Beedy & Nelson, 2004
) provided strong evidence that the most effective interventions contained behavioral skills, information and motivational enhancement components. It was decided that project staff would receive specific training on this model and on how it is used to guide the intervention study. All staff were given information regarding HIV and sexually transmitted diseases: including the sexual transmission of HIV, measures to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV, and the connection between the presence of a sexually transmitted infection and the acquisition of HIV. Staff directly involved in intervention delivery (i.e., facilitators) also received training on HIV-prevention behavioral skills (e.g., condom use negotiation, male and female condom application, and assertiveness) and motivational enhancement methods for behavior change (e.g., motivational interviewing).
Additionally, research with adolescent girls includes two separate and related dimensions that require training. First, the literature provides strong evidence that awareness of and sensitivity to adolescent development and gender are important factors for successful programs to change adolescent risk behaviors (Wingood & DiClemente, 2000
). Similarly, research findings suggest that the interplay between race, social class and ethnic culture is an important factor to consider when working with adolescent girls from diverse backgrounds (e.g., poor rural youth, middle-class suburban youth, and poor urban youth). This evidence led to the addition of developmental, gender, and cultural competence and sensitivity topics to the research training agenda.
Coordinating a training program for an entirely new research staff is a skillful balancing exercise. A literature review was conducted to find evidence of effective training methods. Six methods were identified: independent-, self-directed, group-didactic, group-interactive, simulation-based and supervisory-iteration training.
Individual Level Training Methods
Independent training involves the research team member’s completing a training exercise in order to gain knowledge or skills, but doing so independently of other team members. This includes methods such as reading a textbook or watching an instructional video. This method is indicated for low complexity topics for which textbook information is readily available, and for which competency can easily be assessed. While there were initial concerns that this method might lead to procrastination and low competency achievement, evidence from education psychology research did not support these assumptions (Evensen & Hmelo, 2000; Wolters, 2003
). A related training method is self-directed training. Self-directed training occurs when team members utilize additional information resources to expand their knowledge base on a given topic. This complementary training was recommended but not required. Resources for self-directed training included related websites, peer-reviewed articles, books, seminars, and videos. This training method is designed to satisfy intellectual curiosity and a desire for professional growth.
Group Level Training Methods
Group-didactic learning is analogous to “classroom style” teaching, in which a trainer provides explicit instruction via lecture format and then answers questions from the audience. This training is indicated for topics that are too complex for independent-training but for which little intra-group interaction is necessary (or desired). Although it tends to be the least preferred instruction method by both trainees and trainers, group-didactic is nonetheless effective (Smeeton, Williams, Hodges, & Ward, 2005
). Group-interactive training involves team members actively engaged in organized intra-group discussion about the training subject content. Research suggests that the dialectical nature of interactive training not only challenges team members to think more critically about the training topic, but also serves an operational purpose by helping them learn to work as a team (Kayes, Kayes, & Kolb, 2005
). This is particularly important with all new staff that needs to develop into a cohesive functional unit.
Simulation-based training provides a near “real world” experience for staff. Its value is that team members can confront planned errors or possible problems they may encounter in their roles and practice working through them in a supportive coaching environment. There is evidence that guided-error based training is effective, creative and associated with improved role self-efficacy and performance (Horng, Hong, ChanLin, Chang, & Chu, 2005
; Lorenzet, Salas, & Tannenbaum, 2005
). Last, supervisory-iteration training is a remedial method implemented while team members are performing their roles. The need for this training can easily be identified through performance evaluations or “spot checks.” Supervisors make scheduled and unscheduled field observations of staff in their various roles (e.g., recruitment, group facilitation) and provide feedback that includes the team member’s strengths as well as strategies to improve areas of underperformance. The supervisor also develops performance objectives for the team member and continues to provide observation and feedback regularly until the desired performance is consistently observed.
Development of Individualized Training Plans
After reviewing the evidence on training content and the training process, the training program planning team recognized that while some content was relevant to every component of the project, other components were role-specific. The planning team then matched individual research team members with the appropriate training content and the appropriate training method. These matches are illustrated in and . Cross-training was provided to some team members in different roles in order to increase their functional capacity on the team, particularly if they might need to be called upon to perform tasks outside of their usual role. Additionally, training on certain topics was not necessary for some members who joined the team with considerable relevant professional experience. These topics were removed from their training plan since it would not add to the team member’s existing knowledge base on the subject (Stanley, 2000
) and would have negatively impacted the budget as well.
Evidence-based research team training plan (basic research topics )
Evidence based research team training plan (supplemental topics)
Developing and carrying out such an extensive training plan takes not only considerable time but also impacts the research budget. It is estimated that the training time needed to prepare for this project was between 200 and 250 total personnel hours. Such additional personnel hours should be considered when developing the initial study budget. Taking advantage of team personnel with expertise in specific areas by incorporating them as trainers rather than hiring consultants is one way to control training costs. For example, one research team member had experience teaching diversity training at another university and was able to provide similar training to the rest of the research team in a condensed one-day workshop. While the research team received expert diversity training, it did not carry additional costs for an outside trainer.