An extensive skills job audit at Western District Health Services (WDHS) identified that new graduates and existing aged care health workers required communication skills gap training to enhance the quality and provision of care within aged care settings, particularly in relation to dementia.
This was consistent with a core finding of the Aged Care Royal Commission— the issue of communication in all facets of the age services industry.
A micro-credential training program for dementia was developed to upskill WDHS aged care workers through two main program areas: Communicate and Manage. With the help of Start Beyond (a spatial and immersive learning studio) and in partnership with South West TAFE, dementia immersive virtual reality (VR) learning scenarios were piloted to test soft skill capability acquisition for new aged care graduates and existing WDHS staff.
Supported by the Victorian Department of Education Workplace Training Innovation Fund, a suite of real-life interactive VR scenarios was produced for the WDHS Dementia Micro-credentials program. In the scenarios, the actor playing the dementia resident looks at and talks directly to the 360° camera, so that the user feels as though the resident is talking to them.
This immersive VR technique is coupled with a branching narrative that allows the user to choose how they would like to respond to the resident’s behaviour. The subsequent neutral, escalating or de-escalation reaction of the resident provides the user with a first-hand experience of effective versus poor communication skills.
This visceral learning experience increases the confidence of the user to adapt to a variety of complex situations without the need to have experienced them first-hand.
New delivery design
The WDHS Dementia Micro-credentials program re-envisions the new concept of training design and delivery of services through its deep commitment to a long-term holistic regional development of students and staff caring for dementia patients.
Through improved reactions and more open communication, this shift in culture and attitude is evident. Organisations with long-term staff who feel connected to their colleagues and residents, and access career development pathways, provide higher quality care and service.
This model is a less risky and more accessible learning option than the traditional ‘learning on the floor’ model, which is problematic due to personnel risks, along with costly resourcing and time considerations, including our current complex COVID-19 environment.
The WDHS Micro-credentials program is an innovative learning model that can be replicated throughout the age services industry for different learning needs, which strengthens emerging graduates and employees with soft skills in critical thinking, emotional intelligence, customer service, team work and the ability to manage conflict through improved communication. It can be easily integrated into existing learning management systems and can be deployed at scale.
WDHS serves a region of Victoria where the ageing demographics of the population has shifted significantly, and subsequently there is an increased need for aged care services and skilled staff. WDHS recognises this crisis and is proactively building programs to provide long-term solutions.
By partnering with South West TAFE, WDHS is investing in place-based community, educating and empowering localised rural and regional populations with new career opportunities, and ensuring WHDS delivers to its residents high quality services long-term.
Recognised by industry
Western District Health Services with South West TAFE and Start Beyond was recognised as a finalist in the Increasing Care and Service Productivity category in the 2021 innovAGEING National Awards.