Innovative Mobile-based Learning Program during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Situation

The Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity – the State Agency responsible for the Administration of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) – was collaborating with GLP to design & facilitate in-person weatherization workshops for 100 de-centralized field staff. Then, COVID-19 happened, and all plans ground to a halt.

There were a number of challenges to overcome: 1) Training needed to continue and management wanted to keep their staff of 100+ individuals employed; 2) not everyone had a computer or stable Wi-Fi; 3) there was a lot of content to teach; 4) everyone was in self-isolation; 5) staff are used to being physically active on-site performing construction work and less used to studying during the day; and, 6) these were uncertain and somewhat scary times.

Here is where the challenging times led to creative innovation. It was decided that content from the newly revised Technical Policies & Procedures manual would be offered to staff virtually – this would help allow everyone to stay paid and use the time at home to learn.

The Journey

The innovations were exciting and inspiring:

  1. We invited the group into an SMS-based learning program designed for learners to complete on their smart phones. This ensured a level of access for staff that was not possible using computers; it felt more inclusive, respectful and easy to use.
  2. We created a program made up of “learning nuggets” that were sent as text messages that went out three times a day: 7am, 11am and 3pm. Each nugget required participants to click through text, respond to invitations to engage, and share personal reflections. All data was collected and offered to managers in real time.
  3. The program could be completed in the comfort of their own home in a way that worked for them.
  4. The nuggets offered the content in small bite-size pieces and a diversity of activities were offered including, videos, audio clips, graphic images, and written text. The learning was further enhanced by weekly virtual team gatherings, 1-1 phone calls with a supervisor, and real-life application in their own home.
  5. Personal stories in the form of videos and audio clips from staff, managers and satisfied clients were offered as real-life applications weekly. This deepened peer connections, invited multiple voices and celebrated great work being done.
  6. Humor was used throughout and was collaborative and fun: we requested humor from the participants in the form of jokes, pictures and stories (considering the “strange times”), and then shared these in the learning program. This was another way for everyone to see each other in new and different ways during a time of isolation and was appreciated by all.

The Impact

As a result of this learning program, we found that staff…

  • Built closer relationships with their peers throughout the statewide program
  • Formed a greater sense of the larger team
  • Gained a deeper understanding of weatherization policies
  • Expressed increased loyalty and gratitude for their agency and their supervisors
  • Demonstrated more openness to differentiated learning approaches and a high-level-of engagement with some pretty dense technical policy content
  • Experienced an increased sense of pride in their work and what they accomplish for, and with, their Vermont neighbors.

As well, supervisors…

  • Experienced an increased understanding of the strengths of and challenges faced by their crews. This was generative. It flowed into specific and intentional additional learning and conversations.
  • Experienced pride in their innovative approach to training staff and being able to continue paying them during the prolonged COVID-19 crisis.

Thank you to the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity’s Weatherization Assistance Program, with Josh Larose as lead in this work, for sharing this innovative project.