by Susan Shimotsu

The USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families is now offering online continuing education courses aimed at behavioral healthcare professionals.

Partially funded by a $6.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, CIR’s continuing education classes are a part of its A Rapid and Revolutionary Response to the Needs of Wounded Warriors project, through which the center is developing a comprehensive, evidence-based curriculum designed to train therapists for working with servicemembers and their families.

“In many parts of the country, community mental health care providers for veterans have insufficient capacity and frequently fall short of recommended standards for care,” said CIR director Anthony Hassan. “Therefore, it is important to have available continuing education courses to ensure that behavioral health providers and first responders have access to military-related materials that will increase their competency and confidence to more effectively care for community-dwelling military service members, veterans and their families.”

CIR, which is part of the USC School of Social Work, first developed courses to be taught at the school’s location in downtown Los Angeles. To ensure it is offering the best resources, CIR re-evaluated the courses to find the best mode of delivery. In-person classes offer face-to-face interaction, but online courses offer fewer costs than those associated with putting on actual seminars.

“The content of the courses are basically the same, and we try to build comparable interactivity within the online classes,” Hassan said. “There is also greater flexibility in terms of time for the online students. They can complete the modules at their own pace and delve as deeply as they want into special topics.”

For its first online course, CIR launched “Military Culture,” a broad introductory course that promotes a deep understanding of military culture and other related life circumstances for civilian professionals who will be working with servicemembers, veterans and their families. Taught by Hassan, the class, which is informed by Master of Social Work courses in the Military Social Work sub-concentration, is a self-paced course focused on evidence-based practices.

The online courses allow for interactive learning and the unique opportunity to correspond with experts in the field. For one week in February, New York Times journalist James Dao, who won the 2012 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for his series “A Year at War,” participated in the Military Culture course forum, bringing the perspective of war reporting to students.

While the online courses have several interactive features, CIR’s first goal has been user-friendly interaction. Instead of offering the standard PowerPoint presentation to click through, CIR focused on improving forums for lively discussion and offering helpful visuals.

CIR conducted a survey with about 300 behavioral health care providers, as well as focus groups, to see what they wanted in continuing education courses. From there, the course developers used the feedback to design the best modules for their audience in both content and delivery.

“We tailor the courses so they are appropriate to the continuing education audience,” said Hassan. “The courses are designed specifically for post-graduate behavioral health professionals, who have a certain level of education and experience and who are currently practicing in the field.”

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