An interview with Matthew Seeley, Product Team Manager, Cengage Learning.

When you hear the words “workforce development program,” what comes to mind? Do you picture older adults, training for a new profession at a community college, established professionals studying for re-certification exams or taking courses in order to maintain their credentials, or high school students exploring careers and learning new skills? In reality, workforce development programs encompass all of the above scenarios, as well as a host of others.

Matthew (Matt) Seeley has been working with teams that create teaching and learning solutions for a wide variety of courses that are typically included in workforce development programs – teams comprised of authors, software developers, videographers, and other content producers – for more than thirteen years. When he originally started working with Delmar, a part of Cengage Learning, the company already considered itself to be in the business of providing solutions for careers and lifelong learning – serving students in high school, post-secondary education, re-certification programs, and on-the-job training. Jeanne Heston recently caught up with Matt to learn more.

Jeanne Heston (JH): I understand that the term “Workforce Development” refers to a wide variety of disciplines. Can you tell me more about the range of disciplines and programs that it includes?

Matt Seeley (MS): We basically serve two main categories of workforce development programs – healthcare and trades. Training programs for healthcare professions continue to be in high demand due to an ongoing shortage of registered and licensed nurses and low availability of space in qualified nursing programs. As a result, there has been growth in a wide array of new “specialty” healthcare areas with new license requirements — health unit coordinators, medication aides, and surgical technologists, for example. All are performing tasks that nurses have historically performed — in addition to their core responsibilities — but the specific requirements of these new professions can be learned in certificate-based or two-year degree programs. Other healthcare job categories continue to experience high demand, such as pharmacy technicians, home health aide, radiologic technician, and dental assistant.

The trades area of workforce development includes training for professions as diverse as automotive technician, electrician, blueprint reader, electronics specialist, computer technician, graphic designer, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technician.

JH: Which workforce development disciplines or areas benefit most from interactive digital and online resources?

MS: Digital teaching and learning resources are most certainly necessities for online courses, but we have seen high demand for these resources in on-the-ground courses, as well. A typical workforce development program in the healthcare field includes both knowledge-based courses, such as medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology, as well as the skills-based courses that build upon this knowledge. When students first enter a program for radiologic technicians, they may initially struggle with knowledge-based courses, such as medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology, because they do not understand exactly how they will apply this knowledge. We have found that simulations, like the Learning Labs that we have developed for healthcare programs, increase student engagement and interest in the subject areas by placing students in the middle of the action – immersive online environments in which they interact with patients, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. Instead of simply memorizing a term like “acetabulum,” a student can work in a “safe” online space in which they can test their knowledge of the location of the acetabulum by taking a virtual X-ray. Or they can practice calculating dosages, without worrying that patients will be harmed if they guess incorrectly.

When students move on to the skills-based courses in the program, these interactive online environments enable them to learn new terminology and skills in context – such as diagnosing automotive engine problems when presented with a set of noises and other symptoms in the DATO environment. The simulations enable these activities to take place in safe, highly interactive online environments.

JH: Can you provide an example of an interactive learning resource that has dramatically accelerated the learning process for students?

MS: Well, I can think of many examples, but the one that comes to mind was designed to help health care students understand the principles of pharmacology. It’s a complex area, in which you really need to help students understand the interactions of various medications with the body and how they actually help the body to heal. In a simulated online environment, it is much easier to see cause and effect and to essentially bring the concepts to life.

JH: Have there been any surprises along the way? 

MS: The biggest surprise has been the pace at which our digital solutions have been adopted – across disciplines and demographic segments.  In fact, the simulations have caught on like wildfire! We often hear that older, non-traditional students – like those who represent a large segment of the workforce development population — are not as tech-savvy as younger students. What we are seeing is an adoption rate – and a level of technology engagement – that is exceptionally high across age groups. One of our education partners asked us to create Med Term Mastery, an interactive medical terminology app for iPhones and Android devices. It is a free, multi-layered app that is designed to act as both a reference and learning resource and the number of downloads has exceeded our expectations.

JH: How do you see technology solutions for workforce development programs evolving over the next several years?

MS: I believe that this is a market that will move to an all-digital set of course materials very quickly – including simulations, eTextbooks, assessments, and other resources. And the proliferation of smartphones will make it easier for most students to access portable learning applications in order to more easily fit lifelong, 24/7 learning into their busy lives.

Do you use simulations or other online environments that enable students to obtain immediate feedback when practicing new skills? We would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences using the comments section below.