Helping the Helpers: How We Can Support Public Health Training Developers

Many public health professionals are aware of “Train the Trainer” programs that instruct professionals on providing necessary knowledge or skills to other practitioners, but how does the trainer know where to start? How do they get support, and what does- or can- that look like?

In 2023, the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) was granted funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the current state and needs of public health practitioners who develop training, including instructional designers, workforce development specialists, training developers, and others. NNPHI partnered with LAR Consulting, LLC (LARC) to conduct qualitative focus groups and key partner interviews.

In April and May 2023, LARC recruited 31 participants for six focus groups and six key partner interviews. Participants for the focus groups came from government agencies, nonprofits, consulting, and academia, while the interviews focused on national membership associations and public health training centers. The findings highlighted the challenges facing those who develop training for the public health workforce, such as resource issues and the need for more robust support systems.

The most frequent challenges in developing public health training were related to providing follow-up support to learners, ensuring usability and accessibility standards, and incorporating opportunities for learner engagement for various modalities of training. Focus group participants noted funding as the largest constraint to producing high-quality training. In particular, the funding amount provided was insufficient given the short timeline for deliverables.

Data Map

Participants also had concerns about training being a catch-all solution when there might be better approaches to address an issue that may have deeper root causes. Other challenges presented were developing training while adhering to local or funder policies, lack of training needs assessments, and finding appropriate content (i.e. culturally appropriate, accurate, and relevant). LARC summed it up by stating, “Success for training is typically measured based on reach and immediate knowledge gain, putting pressure on developers to design for accountability to the funding mechanism rather than the learner.”

There is no “go-to” place for public health professionals who develop training to pool their collective knowledge, resources, and skill-sharing. Furthermore, while many resources for training developers are available, they may not be known broadly, be applied to a public health setting or have clear implementation. Collectively, the focus groups cited six locations for where they sought support in developing training: Google, public health organizations, their peers in training, their immediate colleagues, topic or platform-specific communities, and training subject matter experts (SMEs). While these support systems are helpful, they are too piecemeal to provide significant training development support.

One participant encapsulates the issue by saying, “Something that speaks the language of public health intersecting with instructional design would be… I don’t know that that exists. I don’t know if that’s out there.” The focus groups and interviews found that a centralized place for the public health workforce to connect, share product experiences and best practices, develop mentoring relationships, and engage in collective problem-solving is needed. They envisioned an inspiring, useful, safe, usable, engaging, and connecting space for public health professionals developing training to commune.

The inquiry into training developer needs revealed new trends to consider during training development. The participants noted the shifts in the public health workforce towards a younger and more diverse demographic will impact future training needs. They foresaw a broader range of workforce development training activities incorporating application-based methods, advanced technologies, and shorter, more strategic learning opportunities. The participants also anticipate that public health training will shift from a just-in-time fix to a more intentional dismantling of systems and root causes as a way of investing in the future public health workforce. As such, LARC developed Training Developer Personas as a way to envision training developers that would use such a public health training community. These personas help paint a picture of the current and future public health training professionals. Public health organizations that support training developers can use these personas to consider what support systems need to be built to meet this diverse, envisioned group’s needs.

training developers

In response to the qualitative focus groups and key partner interview findings, NNPHI has been working alongside the Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI) to build a training developer support system by way of a learning pathway. The Training with Intention Learning Pathway follows CDC’s Quality Training Standards in eight modules where SMEs lead asynchronous sessions, provide resources, and share their experiences and case studies to enhance the quality of public health training. The Training with Intentions Learning Pathway also supports a live discussion board where participants can network, share resources, and ask questions to other public health professionals developing training. NNPHI anticipates this resource as a steppingstone in the long journey to better support public health professionals who develop training.

Having well-equipped public health professionals who develop training for the larger workforce is essential in building our public health infrastructure. NNPHI is grateful to be taking these first steps in sharing these findings and the Training with Intentions Learning Pathway in partnership with LARC, IPHI, and CDC to support the public health workforce in this capacity. One of the values that came out of the recent public health crises was the idea of helping the helpers, and while more work, resources, and continued collaboration are needed, NNPHI is encouraged to share the tools in this article to highlight the need for a better support system for one of the less-considered pieces of the larger public health infrastructure.

To read LARC’s full report, click here.


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