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What Goes Into Creating an Engaging Online Learning Experience?

Explore how CHIME is creating flexible, engaging education programs that give people access to world-class learning and help the association reach more learners than ever before.


When the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) was developing its digital education strategy, the bar was set high. The on-ground conferences and workshops it had been offering for nearly three decades had picked up a reputation for being not only informative and engaging but, in a word, fun.

CHIME discovered that even though you may not deliver carbon-copy versions of your in-person programs online, that doesn’t mean virtual experiences can’t be awesome. “What we’ve discovered is we don’t need to replicate in a digital environment exactly what we do on the ground because, frankly, there’s opportunity to do more,” says Dr. Tim Stettheimer, Vice President of Education.

We had the opportunity to talk to Tim and Dr. Jenelle Hodges, Director of Digital Learning, about some of the tools, tactics, and techniques the association used to create online education programs to drive engagement and excitement among their members.

Setting the Bar: CHIME’s On-Ground Experiences

Prior to launching IGNITE, CHIME’s digital education platform, the association delivered all of its programs through in-person or on-ground formats. Faculty would travel to different locations to lead events and workshops, and speakers would come in to offer insights on key subjects.

“They’re really great educational opportunities, and when we can hold them again, they’re still a wonderful way to learn and build relationships with peers and friends,” reflects Jenelle. “I think that’s an important piece of professional development that we sometimes forget. It’s not just one person telling you something. It’s being able to say, “This is what I’m dealing with,” and having someone else respond, “I’ve worked through that. Let me help you there.”

“When we were looking at digital education, we wanted to help people build relationships and create those shared experiences. The question was: How could we make each learner feel like they were a special, integral part of that learning community?

Rolling Out the Virtual Red Carpet: Delivering Online Experiences

1. Blending Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning

When evaluating learning management systems (LMSs), CHIME was interested in not only how people were engaging with the LMS but also how they were engaging with each other through the LMS. Engagement and user experience are key pieces of CHIME’s world, which is why the three questions below really mattered:

  • How were people experiencing the learning content and courses?
  • How were they experiencing the platform itself?
  • How were they experiencing live and on-demand sessions?

“We needed more than just a basic system—we needed a platform that could handle the big dreams and the big visions that our board, our education team, and our members were looking for,” says Jenelle. “We wanted something flexible enough to let people study on their own time as well as provide more structured courses with live sessions and a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning.”

2. Equipping People to Put Knowledge to Work Immediately

A challenge associated with in-person events is that learning takes place over constrained periods of time and in a separate environment from where it will be put in to practice. As CHIME discovered, digital learning experiences can help bridge that gap by immediately connecting people to the application of learning.

“People have a unique opportunity to immediately apply what they’re learning,” says Tim. “The instructors can give them the knowledge and skills they need to apply. Learners exercise and practice them, and then they bring those real-world experiences back into the course.”

3. Encouraging People to Interact with the Material and Each Other

One of CHIME’s focuses has been finding ways to drive all-around engagement—with peers, instructors, and the content itself. “Virtual learning communities aren’t solely made for content consumption,” explains Tim. “They’re about the depth and quality of interactions that occur with other learners.”

Some of the tools CHIME has used to encourage collaboration are threaded discussions, video chats, and live sessions.

The association has also taken advantage of knowledge-check opportunities like quizzes, surveys, and game boards available within Brightspace. Initially, there was some skepticism about whether this approach would resonate with executive learners, but as Jenelle says, “Our learners love it. They love being able to not only read the material but also to work and interact with it. The instant feedback they receive allows them to understand how they’re progressing and continue learning, even if it’s not the day of the live session.”

4. Experimenting with New Tactics and Making It Fun

Before launching IGNITE, digital education was uncharted territory, and the association was keen to make online learning as awesome as it could possibly be. “We wanted something that presented information differently,” says Jenelle. “It was about being fun, engaging, and interactive in a professional way. We wanted to incorporate some gamification with templates, maps, and branching storylines to deliver content in ways that would increase engagement and improve the user experience.”

Take its cybersecurity course as an example. CHIME created a gamified, immersive, and highly visual learning environment that guides learners, prompts them to make their own choices, and allows them to revisit material. Learners can also connect with an expert faculty member weekly to ask questions, seek clarification, and get support. So far, the feedback from learners has been fantastic.

Want to see what else IGNITE has to offer? Browse the full course catalog here.

5. Building Flexible Programs That Appeal to Larger Audiences

A major focus for CHIME in developing its digital education strategy and launching IGNITE has been growth. Tim explains, “The global healthcare community is enormous, and it’s growing as society’s healthcare needs grow. Our goal is to reach beyond our existing membership of executives to a broader audience of healthcare professionals, which means expanding our education offerings by a factor of 100 or more. The only way we can do that is through a digital platform.”

What’s Next for IGNITE and CHIME

When CHIME held its first digital conference at the end of 2020, the association attracted more people than ever before. “This was a chance for people to attend something that they may not have been able to before. Even in looking at our member base, we realize we never drew more than 20% of our membership to any single event,” Tim says.

Does this mean CHIME plans to transition to online programs only? No. There’s something truly special about CHIME’s on-ground conferences and workshops. Its teams are looking forward to putting on in-person events just as much as attendees can’t wait to be a part of them again. Instead, CHIME is looking towards hybrid education models—incorporating both in-person and digital offerings—that will provide the face-to-face experiences members love, give people ongoing access to world-class continuing education, and help the association reach more learners than ever before.

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Table of Contents

  1. Setting the Bar: CHIME’s On-Ground Experiences
  2. Rolling Out the Virtual Red Carpet: Delivering Online Experiences
  3. What’s Next for IGNITE and CHIME