Elsie and Tom: evaluating experiential learning

Karen Johnson and Sue Cleary, The Fed, Manchester

As part of the Fed and the University of Salford’s collaboration and involvement with the Teaching Care Homes Programme, we were asked to discuss an area of development which the Fed were proud of. We decided to focus on some training, which together we have been evaluating. We decided to start by assessing the benefits of an innovative and inclusive approach to learning called ‘Elsie and Tom’, which is delivered to all staff at the Fed by the TLC Learning Academy. We believe that this approach demonstrates the Fed’s values; ‘Caring, Respect, Excellence and Working Together’, by giving staff the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a resident for a day, experiencing how problems with mobility, sight, hearing can impact on a person, and how staff interactions with older people can have a negative or positive impact. It was hoped that this would help staff to understand the practical and physical daily routine and lives of the people they care for.

The current evaluation of this learning opportunity is a traditional one; paper based, with preformed questions that are to be completed directly after training. After reviewing many of the responses to the questionnaire, we began to question whether these evaluations provided a true reflection of the learning, as many of the responses did not really provide us with any information that indicated how the learning might impact on the care experience for residents. We therefore decided to review the current evaluation format, in order to clarify whether staff had developed any change in their understanding of the residents’ lived experience and subsequently changed their practice, as a result of ‘Elsie and Tom’, and to identify what the benefits for the residents were.

We recognised that for an evaluation to be helpful, it needed to capture whether ‘Elsie and Tom’ was helping staff to understand what life is like for residents and ultimately influencing the care that they were giving.

We therefore invited a small sample of staff who had experienced ‘Elsie and Tom’ at various stages during the last 12 months to participate in a more creative approach to evaluation. Gabi Hesk from the University of Salford and Kate Sanders from FoNS met with seven members of staff in two small groups. Using picture cards (evokecards.com) to stimulate reflection, Gabi and Kate encouraged staff to select cards that related to their learning experience and then to talk about why they had selected this card. The other staff in the group joined in this discussion and Gabi captured the key themes on a flip chart with the help of staff.

What became very clear was that the evaluation data that was generated through this process provided us with much more meaningful information than the former evaluations. We were able to hear about the learning and consider how staff had implemented this in their care of residents. There was evidence of the Fed’s vision, purpose and values and we could clearly see the transformation of this into the care provided to residents. Examples of the staff learning from the evaluation are provided below:

  • “This opened my eyes”
  • “I wouldn’t sit someone who was eating a pureed meal next to someone who was eating a roast chicken dinner now”
  •  “Makes me think how I would like to be cared for, [do the right thing] putting feelings aside”
  •  “It’s about how you see and treat people”
  •  “Realisation that identity and culture can be forgotten”
  •  “Sometimes you find yourself too busy to explain, but now I know, I sit back and spend more time explaining things, not rushing”
  •  “We all forget, and we all remember, but Elsie and Tom made me think that dementia, once it kicks in, it’s all gone. It frightens the life out of me, it’s a scary future. What these people are going through now could happen to me”

There was also an unexpected finding, which was recognition that the staff benefitted from re-visiting and reflecting on the training and considering how this had impacted on their own learning and development, now they had had time to use this learning in their practice.

Karen Johnson and Sue Cleary from the Fed are now looking to implement this type of evaluation for all staff who participate in the ‘Elsie and Tom’ training in the future because of the benefits noted.


TLC Learning Academy (2019) Elsie and Tom Experiential Dayhttps://www.tlclearningacademy.com/health-care.php#elsie. Last accessed: 19.06.2019.

The Fed (2019) Our Vision, Purpose and Values. Available from: https://www.thefed.org.uk/our-vision-purpose-and-values/. Last accessed: 23.06.2019.

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