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E-learning's impact on consumer employees

August 1, 2007
by Joseph Rogers and Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW
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Its flexible approach makes it a valuable training tool for these staff members

Using e-learning and employing consumers are effective strategies that have taken their place in the behavioral healthcare industry. We have seen how, separately, consumer employees and e-learning have transformed practice and staff training. Let's take a few moments to examine how e-learning can help train these unique employees.

Provider organizations need to train consumer employees just as they need to train the rest of their staff members. The basic premise of e-learning, an online anywhere, anytime approach, offers flexibility in meeting required state or accreditation trainings and can conform to an employee's schedule. In addition to allowing staff members to learn at their own pace, e-learning can develop a group's core competencies before an in-person training event.

E-learning for consumer employees is not much different than for other staff members. It can be a useful training method for consumer employees who have trouble learning in a classroom environment or who have limited transportation options (particularly in rural areas). E-learning can be helpful for a consumer employee who needs a flexible training approach to successfully remain in the workforce. Learning from home through e-learning can be a big energy saver for the consumer and cost-effective for the provider organization.

Consumer employees can use e-learning to take many courses traditionally taught in a classroom setting. Peer specialists might be able to train for certification and fulfill annual continuing education requirements using e-learning. E-learning can support consumer employees by providing orientation to an organization's practices, information on self-care, and timely content. Specific training sessions that could be offered online, based on a list in Wilma Townsend and Grisetta Griffin's Consumers in the Mental Health Workforce: A Handbook for Community Providers, include:

  • Duties outlined in the job description

  • Information needed to do the job (record keeping, charting, progress notes, etc.; crisis intervention/incident reporting; quality improvement/utilization review practices; supervision, ethics, available supports, such as mentoring or coaching; patient rights laws and staff responsibilities; and productivity requirements if applicable)

  • Agency personnel policies (hiring, firing, grievance, leave procedures)

  • Healthcare benefits

  • ADA and the process for requesting accommodations

  • Vision and mission of the agency, as well as for the local and state systems

  • Expected agency outcomes

  • Strategies for working with agency staff members

  • Maintaining good mental health (managing stress and preventing burnout, partnering in the workplace, managing ambiguity, prioritizing multiple work demands)

  • Personal recovery planning and/or intervention planning (provided in a general context or in individualized settings for self-identified consumer employees)1

E-learning also can be used to promote the key components of recovery to a provider organization's entire workforce, thereby creating a more welcoming atmosphere for consumer employees.

E-learning can support provider organizations' eagerness to employ and train consumers and make everyone's efforts successful. The number of qualified consumer employees is increasing, and resistance to hiring consumers is breaking down. “We will see much progress in retaining and training consumer employees, and e-learning will be just one of many tools used,” notes Linda Rosenberg, MSW, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

“E-learning is rapidly being seen not as an option, but an integral component of an effective employee training program,” adds Lorraine Watson, PhD, president of Essential Learning, an e-learning vendor. “Consumer employees will greatly benefit from this trend.”

Joseph Rogers is Executive Director of the National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse. Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW, is Vice-President of Marketing for Essential Learning, an e-learning vendor.

For more information, e-mail kbfrazee@essentiallearning.com.


  1. Townsend W, Griffin G. Consumers in the Mental Health Workforce: A Handbook for Community Providers. Rockville, Md.: National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare; 2006: 22.