Background: The convenience, economy, and geographic reach of distance education makes distance pedagogical methods a leap forward. Many organizations turn to distance learning in order to save money while keeping their staff up to speed on core competencies. There are a variety of alternatives to traditional face-to-face live trainings including online e-learning courses, tele-classes conducted via phone, virtual simulations in multimedia environments, and blended trainings that combine asynchronous (i.e. not in immediate contact with another person in real time) online components with some type of real-time interaction such as live training, instant messenger, webinars, or phone calls. As these approaches have gained popularity, information indicates that web-based options in health and human services training can optimize how trainees incorporate new techniques into clinical practice (Vozenilek at el, 2004). Comparing costs and benefits of different distance continuing education modalities is needed.
Method: This quasi-experimental, mixed method study assessed student learning outcomes and costs associated with the provision of an in-service training course for mental health professionals counseling parents regarding parenting. The course, Making Parenting Matter: Coaching Parents on Positive Parenting, was taught using the same content in three different intervention conditions — e-learning, tele-class, and live workshop. A wait-list control condition was included as a comparison for the three intervention groups. Participants included 159 clinicians employed at a large behavioral health organization who completed pre-test, post-test, and one month follow-up assessments of their learning outcomes. Participants also provided qualitative responses regarding their experience with and attitude toward distance learning opportunities.
Results: Results showed the three intervention groups' learning outcome scores were comparable at all three assessments, while the wait list participants showed significantly lower scores (p<.05) than any of the intervention groups at post-test as well as at one month follow-up assessment. Distance learning conditions were shown to be more cost-effective than face to face workshop. However, qualitative results suggest that many practitioners still prefer face to face training. Implications include the importance of fully utilizing technologies that allow for social interaction with classmates and real feedback from an instructor in distance continuing education. Tech support for those students who are less comfortable with these training modalities is crucial for success.