Help one, help many!

Hello everyone and welcome to the third edition of Brad’s Helpful Tricks and Tips! In the last issue we discussed a company, Dynamic Pathways, who specializes in training employees who take care of people with disabilities. These are trainings such as CPR, First Aid, medication administration, and more. These trainings are taught by certified instructors and are done so pretty frequently as people come into and leave the field of work. Due to this relatively high demand for these types of trainings, Dynamic Pathways came to me to develop a way for people to register and pay for these trainings through their website. This was needed in order to alleviate a lot of the work load that was put on the secretary from having to manually register people. By doing this, with the goal of alleviating the secretary’s work load, it also greatly improved their customers’ experience.

This week’s focus is on a company that does similar types of trainings but on-line. Being on-line, there are of course certain trainings that they cannot offer, such as CPR/First Aid and medication administration since these require more hands-on training. This company, Clearwater Council of Governments, provides mainly supportive trainings for the employees who work with people with disabilities. These trainings are more geared toward how to act in situations and proper etiquette while on the job.

When Clearwater came to me with the idea of providing these trainings on-line, they didn’t have all of the details figured out yet, as is the case with a lot of my clients. They had the idea of providing these trainings on-line, which would in turn give them the ability to reach out and help more people. They also needed a way to charge for these on-line trainings. In the end, the requirements were that an individual needed the ability to decide which training(s) they needed to take, pay for it, review the training material, take a quiz on what they learned, and print out a certificate as proof. To take this one step further, and to make things a little more interesting in regards to development, all of this needed to be fully automated so that the employees at Clearwater could do their other jobs. Also to make the person’s who was needing the training experience easier instead of having to wait.

The first obstacle was to figure out how to present the training material in a way that was easy for the end user to look through and able to be viewed with the least amount of web browser requirements as possible. I’m sure you have visited web pages where a certain plug-in is required, it was these types of requirements that were undesirable. The solution was to build a custom application with Adobe Flash since this seems to be the most widely used plug-in used across the web that could get the job done. Clearwater had their training material created in Microsoft Power Point, so by simply turning the slides into images, we were able to create a slide show with Adobe Flash.

The next thing we had to do was create a way for people to take a quiz after going through all of the training material, have those quizzes automatically scored and determine if they passed or failed. This was done relatively simple, by having the questions and answers in a database, a custom application was built to compare the answers that are given during the quiz to the answers that are in the database. There was one small catch to this though. After completing the quiz, the user needed to be able to look back to see which questions they got right and wrong. If they did not receive a passing score, they needed the ability to then take the quiz again without paying.

Once somebody did receive a passing score, they needed a way to prove that they had taken the training, how many hours the training counted as and who was the certified instructor that administered the training. Even though these are on-line, a certified person has to be responsible for creating it and meeting all of the regulatory guidelines. This was accomplished by giving the user the ability to print off a dynamically generated PDF file that had all of the necessary information, including the instructor’s signature.

As backward as it may seem, the final piece of the puzzle was to enable people to take these trainings only after they had paid for it. By out sourcing the processing of payments to Paypal, this was actually the easiest step in the development. By having a “shopping cart” that the user put their training(s) in and then passing this information onto Paypal, the payment is processed, immediately in most cases. Once payment gets processed, Paypal notifies my web server of the completion which in turn allows the individual to proceed with their training.

We have seen how the process of automation can be used to make life easier and more productive for the company’s employees and for their customers but here we see how it reaches people who are not directly involved in the process. Clearwater provides training for employees who help people with disabilities. By innovating a way to provide these trainings more efficiently and to a greater number of people, they are also helping the people with disabilities. Kind of ironically, and probably not accidentally, this was the goal of their company to start.

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