How online learning is impacting the pharmaceutical industry

John Sherman

eLearning has had a tremendous impact on workplace education over the past decade. Perhaps that's one reason why over 70% of all companies now utilize some form of learning management system. The pharmaceutical industry in particular is one that requires a heavy amount of multimedia instruction in order to train up their employees these days.

As the pharmaceutical industry continues to evolve at an exponential rate, the demand for adequately trained personnel grows right with it. The old way of doing things when it comes to training simply does not work anymore, and taking a one-size-fits-all approach to training is flirting with disaster. There are simply far too many legal and safety issues that must be addressed on a company-by-company basis.

Today we are going to talk about one example of how modern eLearning made a huge impact on the pharmaceutical industry.

James L. Vesper won the 2015 Dissertation Award for his design-based research study where he designed, developed, and refined an eLearning program for the World Health Organization (WHO). This program was developed to help train employees on handling vaccines and other pharmaceutical products—and to train employees on how to keep these products at the correct temperature through their life cycles.

Vesper started out by evaluated the WHO existing course, which was essentially a “Learning on Wheels” course where 15 individuals would follow three mentors on a bus trip through Turkey. As they crossed the country, they stopped at various healthcare sites and evaluate how these organizations handled their temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals.

This was obviously an expensive process, both in terms of time and financial resources, so there was a clear opportunity for capitalizing on an eLearning-based alternative that could be reused and tailored to the specific needs of employees.

Building The Course and Looking For Opportunities To Optimize

One important thing to keep in mind when building an eLearning course is that you should evaluate your technology and look for opportunities to improve content delivery and performance.

Once you have optimized for these factors in the beginning, then you will have created a course that can be used over and over again, rather than reinventing the wheel every time you try to perform the training manually.

For example, Vesper and his team learned that integrating YouTube clips into the program was a problem: they were actually being geo-blocked for some of the trainees depending on what country they were in.

Another valuable lesson that they learned when building the course was that it's important to keep your trainers and mentors involved during the process.

This is so that you can lead your trainees and help guide them through their training. Just because you are rolling out a technology-based solution, does not mean that you can abandon your people to learn everything on their own!

Three Critical Phases

There were three different versions of the design and development phase of this program. The first phase included an expert review based on a Failure Mode Effects Analysis risk assessment tool.

The second phase revolved around a mentor review, which was what they used to develop their trainer/facilitator guidelines. This was also the phase where the developers were able to create specific learning expectations and eliminate risks.

The final development phase included a “field test” where various individuals from 11 different countries went through the eLearning course. Developers paid specific attention to keeping this test group as diverse as possible by including trainees with different backgrounds in nonprofit, government, and industry.

The reason for this approach is quite simple: this is what the learning population will look like in the pharmaceutical industry across the board, very, very soon. After all, we are living in an increasingly diverse and global workforce.

Vesper came away with 13 design principles once he finished this award-winning program, and one was that it’s important to look for “opportunities of articulation” when creating your course. The idea is that it’s paramount to have your learners demonstrate what they have learned from the program. In this particular case, for example, the learners had to evaluate the vaccine-handling processes of various healthcare organizations in Albania.

So let’s summarize what we can learn from Vesper’s case study:

  • When building an e-learning solution in the pharmaceutical industry it helps to have an existing program that you are improving on. Starting out from scratch can take more time and resources.
  • Creating multiple stages of evaluating and refining your training material is important, because this is the only way to identify risks and inefficiencies.
  • Look for opportunities for your learners to articulate what they have learned. Give them the opportunity to apply the concepts and present their findings to you.
  • When building your platform, look for opportunities to demonstrate the effectiveness of your processes by addressing existing real-world cases.


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