Mandated reporters are people required by law to report suspected instances of child abuse. To know how to do this, they need training.
Creating a successful mandated reporter learning experience is an ever-evolving process when you use research to improve its effectiveness. Our guest, Dr. Benjamin Levi, is the founder of iLook Out for Child Abuse and shares how his passion for continuous learning helps make effective training that keeps kids safe.
Dr. Benjamin Levi blends his experience as a practicing physician with his quest to keep children safe from child abuse. He does this by leading a team to build research-based training that is getting results across the country. He shared these key points and others during this interview.
Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.
Learn more about d'Vinci at www.dvinci.com.
Susan: Keeping children safe is important for all of us, but for one man, it has become his mission In life.
Dr. Benjamin Levi: The best path is never going to be perfect because this is a complex problem. In that regard, for me, the idea of engaging all these different people is crucial to the endgame, which is to help improve our practices and our ability to protect children.
Susan: That's Dr. Benjamin Levi, the founder of iLookOut for Child Abuse; an online learning module that uses interactive videos to help train people to be responsible, mandated reporters for suspected child abuse. He'll share his journey and lessons for improving the learning experience. Next on Powered By Learning.
Male voice: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. d'Vinci's approach to learning is grounded in 30 years of innovation and expertise. We use proven strategies and leading technology to develop solutions that empower learners [01:00] to improve quality and boost performance. Learn more at dvinci.com.
Susan: Welcome to Powered by Learning. d'Vinci CEO, Luke Kempski is joining me today to talk to our guest, Dr. Benjamin Levi, Director of iLookOut for Child Abuse. Welcome, Benny.
Luke Kempski: Great to see you, Benny.
Benjamin: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Susan: Benny, start out by sharing a little bit about your background and how it led you to create iLookOut for Child Abuse.
Benjamin: By training, I'm a philosopher. I do work in bioethics with a focus on human decision-making. I'm also a general pediatrician, so historically I spend about a third of my time seeing kids in clinic ranging from age one or two days through age 21. I teach bioethics and do research at the Penn State College of Medicine. I'm also from Kansas, which means that I have a down-home view towards a lot of things. I'm interested in how things work and I prefer to be really direct about figuring out [02:00] what things mean and where they come from.
Luke: I guess building on that, tell us how that led to you seeing training as a potential…way to have an impact on reducing or eliminating child abuse.
Benjamin: It really ties into all those three things that I just mentioned. It began, in a sense, when I saw a child many years ago, probably almost 20 years ago in clinic, who had an injury that could have been caused by abuse. I knew that as a mandated reporter, I had to report if I had reasonable suspicion. But because I'm a philosopher, common language lost its meaning to me years ago, so I went to figure out, well, what does reasonable suspicion mean? The more I looked, the less I found.
I spent some time doing a conceptual analysis of it, which made me think that there is no standard for what reasonable suspicion is. Then I started doing a bunch of empirical work, doing surveys of pediatricians and other populations. It turns out, yes, [03:00] that what reasonable suspicion meant depended entirely on who you met that day. Some people thought it meant there was a 1% chance that abuse was occurring. Others said, no, it has to be 99% likely, and everything in between.
I began to think, well, we need a standard definition here. The way that you get that is by first helping people understand that there is a problem - that's education - and then figuring out a way to help people be receptive and recognizing that something they thought they knew, they actually don't know, and then presenting it in a way that was sufficiently engaging, that they actually would open their minds to that.
Again, by nature, I'm a six-year-old. I think in terms of what is the basic question, what is the basic thing that needs to be figured out? I'm often the person that asks these questions that seem, or maybe they are very simple because I'm trying to get at the root of things. [04:00] I'm that guy in the room who asks the question that everyone's like, "Why is he asking that question?"
Luke: For this particular challenge around mandated reporting and child abuse prevention, you have to ask that question to a lot of different people with a lot of different perspectives and different subject matter experts. You have the legal side, you have the social side, you have the medical side. How did you pull all together those different perspectives and the subject matter expertise from those different areas to build a comprehensive training approach?
Benjamin: I'm a very curious person, so I like to engage people who have things to teach me, which a lot of people do. I try to be inviting of their perspective. My MO for how I work is that I want smart, passionate people in the room arguing hard and I want the best argument to win. I don't care whose argument it is. It's also the case that for something like this, my goal is that everyone gets up [05:00] from the table and walks away feeling like they got the best deal.
For me, I wanted people who cared. That's what makes this hard. Things are hard if you care. If you don't care about the product, then whatever. But I wanted people who cared and wanted to push their perspective to make sure it was considered because this really is the elephant that one person says it's like a rope, another person says it's like a leaf, another person says it's like the trunk.
Your perspective on the issue-- What is at issue with child abuse? What are the consequences and what are the dangers of missing it? What are the dangers of over-reporting it? What are the dangers of involving the system or not involving the system? All of those need to be heard and they need to be integrated.
I don't have a dog in this fight. My goal is not to push an agenda, but my goal is to really help people get a deeper [06:00] understanding of what the issue is and figure out the best path forward knowing that the best path is never going to be perfect because this is a complex problem. In that regard, for me, the idea of engaging all these different people is crucial to the endgame, which is to help improve our practices and our ability to protect children.
Luke: That's great. I think not only did you engage a lot of caring subject matter experts and people with different perspectives, but you also engaged a lot of caring learning and development professionals in your journey. I think you also bring a passion for how you deliver e-learning and learning. Can you talk a little bit about the features that you wanted to make sure that were part of iLookOut to make them more engaging and really come up with better learning results in the end, better outcomes?
Benjamin: Thank you. This is a great question. I began with what I didn't want. [07:00] I didn't want to sound like the parents on Peanuts. Right? I wanted this to be respectful of the fact that our learners come with something. They come with an understanding, they come with a set of experiences, a set of insights, so to me, respectful learning is engaging. The question is how do you deliver that in a way that draws people in and keeps them there? Because in a certain way, what we're doing is we're selling. We're selling saying, "Here, this is something to spend your time on, to spend your energy on, to spend your attention on."
I sell in-clinic all the time. I'm selling safe sleep for infants, I'm selling wearing seat belts, brushing your teeth, taking time for you and your partner so you're not burned out with your children. I'm competing. When I think about, well, what is going to have appeal to people? I think, well, it needs to be entertaining enough [08:00] that they're interested in it. For me, and most people, that's stories. Now if we have stories, how do we get people more engaged? Well, we give them a role to play.
That means it's interactive. How do we do that? Well, ideally we use things like animation. Now, if I had a lot of money, I know I'd be at [unintelligible 00:08:18], but I have limited resource. In the midst of figuring-- I bring in people like Karl Kapp, who's up at Bloomsburg University, who's a rockstar in gamification. I bring in people like Rob Hamm in Oklahoma, who spent his whole life looking at human decision-making and how you measure it.
My goal is to make this something that people value, not something they have to do, but something that they walk away, going, "That was a good experience," and it helped me navigate difficult waters that I have to go through if I care about children [09:00] because these are not simple answers. The way I make it engaging is by making it meaningful to solve the problems that they are struggling with.
Luke: Yes, absolutely. You really make the learner think by engaging them that way, which in the end, that was going to lead to, again, better learning outcomes. People are going to come away knowing and feeling and making different choices based on the experience they have in the learning.
When you think about the opportunity that you've had because you've had some grant funding, you've been able to do some research, and I think your background as a philosopher and as a researcher have led to some opportunities, which you're able to do with iLookOut, that go beyond just developing training, but also measuring what works. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Benjamin: You bet. You're alluding to the idea of something being evidence-based, which means that it does what it says it's going to do, and it makes a difference. Unfortunately, when you come to something like mandated reporter training, we did a big survey [10:00] of mandated reporter trainings all over the country and found that there are only 10 states in the entire United States that actually have a pre- and a post-test before and after their training, authorized training, to see whether people learned anything.
To my knowledge, none of those people have actually validated their test. Imagine you're-- People who listen to you know this, but I'll just say it because it's important, is that a question that seems straightforward may not provide you the information you actually want. Perfect example of this is that if you ask undergraduate students, whether they're professor is knowledgeable. What could be more simple than that?
It turns out that their answer to that question is most closely correlated with, do you like your professor? If you really want to know whether they think their professor is knowledgeable, you have to ask different questions. It seemed to me that if we're going to bother to get people to spend time learning about child abuse and its reporting, what to report, what not to report, [11:00] what steps to take, how to comport themselves, we need to make sure that we know that it's a worthwhile training.
The way we do that is by creating a pre- and a post-test, by making sure those measures that we use are validated, and being conscientious and responsible to the learner because we're asking them to invest their time. To our knowledge, we have the only evidence-based mandated reporter training in the country. What we've been able to show in multiple studies, including some NIH randomized controlled trials, is that it significantly improves people's knowledge and it changes their attitudes about child abuse and its reporting.
Luke: I know that now you've kind of moved on to developing other kinds of additional training to supplement and complement what you've already developed with the core, mandated reporter training. Can you talk a little bit about the influence of your research findings on how you're approaching these other projects?
Benjamin: Yes. Some of it's mine, some of it's what a lot of people [12:00] have done beforehand. There's a famous-- over 100 years, ago called Ebbinghaus's Forgetting Curve. It demonstrates, and this has been repeated many times that--
Susan: People keep forgetting it.
Benjamin: Yes. That if you learn something, that if you don't reinforce it within 6 to 10 days after you learned it, you've lost 40% to 60% of what you learned. Learning is only as good as its lasting power. The question for me was not just what, how much could we make someone's knowledge improve, but how long could we help that be sustained over time? We're actually doing an NIH study right now here in Pennsylvania to study what we would call microlearning, which are 6- to 12-minute long interactive learning modules to see whether that can help people sustain that learning and how best to deliver it.
If you give someone a vaccine, you usually give them a booster. The question is, do you give the booster [13:00] ten minutes later, a month later, three months later, nine months later? Our research right now is looking to see when that booster dose of education is best delivered. If someone completes the core training, do we then do this microlearning, which they can complete on their cell, on their smartphone, or what have you? Is it best if we immediately start to reinforce, or should we wait three months, six months, or nine months? If you guys wait another about two years, three years, we'll have the results of that.
Luke: That's so great. One of the things I love about our podcast is when we can have someone on who has a passion about learning, but didn't kind of grow in the learning and development field, and has a different perspective like thinking about immunizations and boosters as a parallel to ongoing learning.
Susan: Yes, that's a great analogy.
Luke: Talk about maybe the influence of your training as a physician and your ongoing learning with maintenance of certification and all of that, and how that may have influenced [14:00] how when you're developing or leading the development of learning solutions, how you might approach that differently.
Benjamin: Yes. There are a couple of aspects of that. One is just the concrete business that I've seen a lot of kids who've been abused or who could've been abused. I also know that one has to have a lot of humility about what you know. The things appear one way, and it turns out they're not.
I think about a woman-- a kid who I saw many years ago who had the worst bow legs I've ever seen, referred them to orthopedics, and they no-showed. I referred them again, they no-showed three times, which surgeons really don't have a lot of patience for. And I was just about to report them for medical neglect and I finally got ahold of the mom. It turns out that she thought that when I said serial casting, that's what orthopedics would do, that what we were going to do was break her child's legs and put them in a cast, break them again, put them in a cast, and keep doing that until the child's legs were straight. [15:00]
I wouldn't take my child to a surgeon for that either. Part of what looked like neglect really wasn't. Right? From a clinical standpoint, I've developed, I hope, more humility than I otherwise would have.
Luke: As you went through your training as a physician and as you go through ongoing maintenance of certification and other learning activities to stay fresh and current, how's that influence when you think about when you are in the role of developing training, how does that influence that?
Benjamin: I remember that. You asked about maintenance of certification. As a pediatrician, historically I'd take a big hard test and then I had to re-certify every 10 years, taking this big hard test. The American Academy of Pediatrics relatively recently, certainly within the last decade, changed that to a maintenance of certification process so that rather than taking…not requiring any kind of education for 10 years and then giving you a hard test, they said, "Instead, what I want you to do [16:00] is I want you to engage in these activities that reinforce your knowledge. If you do that well enough and frequently enough, we will not make you take that test again because you're demonstrating you're being current."
Actually, about three or four years ago, the American Academy came out with these sets of questions that come out about every three months, and you have to do it. I was like, "Wow, this is not as good as I would like it, but boy, it sure is a lot better.” It's much more interactive. It gives you time, like in real life, it gives you a question. You have five minutes to answer it, so you can go look up in books and other things to refresh your memory.
I'm like, "This is a lot better." Then come to learn what about four or five months ago, I learned that JPL and d'Vinci actually developed that in part for the American Academy. I think that that is really the way to go, is that it makes more sense to reinforce learning and to improve people's education on an ongoing basis. That also funded how I look at iLookOut and this business of microlearning.
Luke: Absolutely. [17:00] Good. I know you're very much interested in the technology side of learning, delivery, and certainly the data that we can track and that we can learn from a research standpoint and a continuous improvement standpoint. Talk a little bit about what you see in terms of trends in learning technology that you're enthusiastic about and you're looking forward to adopting and what you do moving forward.
Benjamin: Well, I think one of the most powerful things that we can do over time is to tailor the education to the individual so that you're using the smart functionality, the computing and other electronics, much of which is way above my understanding, but I know what they can do. It's frustrating to people to be asked to learn something they already know or to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency that they've already demonstrated.
One of the things that evidence-based approaches to e-learning and other things can do is they can track what a person has already demonstrated mastery of [18:00] and tailor subsequent education to where those person's weaknesses are educationally or in terms of perspective, or providing them new experiences to apply that knowledge in novel ways because one of the things we know is that people learn things, but how you apply them is much harder.
We teach medical students all the time about the whole range of end-of-life care and advanced care planning. Then when I put on my clinical ethicist hat, I get a call from those people two years down the road, and it's like they never took a course on bioethics because they just don't know how to apply it.
I think that what advanced learning can do is it can give people different permutations of what they've learned, encourage them to apply, give them challenges, give them problem-solving, and do that in a way that is tailored to the needs of the individual. That requires some smart programming to track and figure out what eventually the algorithms are. That's where we're headed eventually. [19:00]
Luke: Yes, absolutely. That just in time just for the right person can really make it so that it's a lot more effective. Talk a little about what's next for your vision with iLookOut, with the learning group you have within Penn State. and what you're looking forward to doing next.
Benjamin: Oh, how much time you got? One of the big things I should say is that iLookOut mandated reporter training, the core training has now become the official training for Head Start programs in all 50 states and US territory, which is huge. It means that we have the opportunity to help improve how people think about this issue and how they support children and families all across the country.
Ultimately, I would like to see iLookOut in every state, and if somebody comes and out-competes us and does a better job, I'd be happy for that, too, because I want us to raise the bar to say, "No, you don't throw together a PowerPoint and just have people [20:00] get information regurgitated to you."
I would like iLookOut or its equal counterparts to pervade mandated reporter training all across the country. We have developed other kinds of microlearning, not just that reinforce that core training, but on issues that are tangential but related to this business of child protection. For example, we are on the verge of implementing a course to help start staff recognize and support families that are struggling with substance use disorders because we know that's related to child wellbeing and sometimes to child neglect.
We've developed courses on promoting resilience in children and their families. We've developed a microlearning course on what are adverse childhood experiences. We did that in concert with the Centers for Disease Control. We have in mind to develop other courses on topics like postpartum depression, which is a huge issue. We have one on intimate partner violence, but we'd like to develop that more. These things are related but not spot on.
From the standpoint of microlearning, I think that they give people an opportunity to engage when they have time. When they're waiting for their kid's ballet lesson or soccer practice to end and they have 10 minutes, they can do a brief microlearning module. I think the coin of the realm now, from my perspective in education, is accessibility and feasibility. Maybe it's just because I'm getting older, but people's attention spans seem to be getting shorter and you can't expect people to listen to an hour, an hour and a half lecture.
I think if you do it well, you can't expect people to do an interactive gamified 8- to 12-minute activity. That notion of gamification, whether it involves digital rewards or whether it's other kinds of interaction that provide more of a - not entertaining, stimulating - a more stimulating experience, we know that triggers our dopamine.
I think we want to leverage that [22:00] without simply becoming people in marketing, though I think, sometimes think, that some of my goals have been better served if I had taken a PhD in marketing than philosophy, because a well-reasoned argument doesn't convince many people, but a well-crafted, conscientious story that knows how to reinforce key points is much more likely to open people's minds and help them change their perspectives on things.
Luke: Yes, absolutely. I think you wrapped it up really well there, and we certainly appreciate you coming on Powered by Learning today and sharing your perspective and sharing the exciting things happening around iLookOut. Yes, we look forward to having you back to talk about the future programs sometime in the future.
Benjamin: Thank you. I really appreciate this opportunity, and if people out who are listening have questions, please encourage them to reach out. I can meet at the Penn State College of Medicine. You can find me online.
Susan: Thanks, Benny. We'll put your contact info and some links to some other helpful information in the show notes [23:00] of the podcast. As Luke said, we're going to look forward to staying in touch and learning more about all that's ahead. Thank you for everything that you're doing to keep our children safe.
Benjamin: Thank you.
Susan: Luke, it's always so nice to talk with Benny. He's so passionate about what he does and he's very inspirational. What lessons do you think our listeners can learn from his experiences with iLookOut for Child Abuse?
Luke: Yes, I always really enjoy talking to Benny. He loves researching and he loves the different approaches to creating and delivering and measuring learning, especially the learning outcomes. It's really embedded in his experience as a practicing pediatrician. Isn't he the perfect example of the multidisciplinary instructional designer? You know the book that you discussed on the recent Powered By Learning episode?
Susan: Yes, for sure, because he's learning from his past experiences to inform his new role.
Luke: Yes, exactly. The integration of his background, his experience as a student, doctors, they spend lots of time in classrooms [24:00] and in labs and in all different ways of learning, and the ongoing learning that's required. He's passionate about preventing child abuse and really has a mission and drive to do that. He has this goal to create better learning experiences that make him such a good and challenging client, and a good person for anyone who's involved in creating learning experiences to listen to and learn from.
Susan: I love listening to him talk because you can tell how much he wants to learn from the learners, that will inform what he'll do next to make it even better. Talk to us a little bit about how d'Vinci's working with Benny.
Luke: We're working with him and his team at Penn State to take their core mandated reporter and child abuse prevention training courses. We're integrating them into our ecoLearn® Learning Management System. We're doing it in a way so that they can be delivered to new and expanded audiences and so that they can track [25:00] their use and effectiveness. It's not just scoring and certifying the learners, but it's also getting into really measuring the training and how effective it is and capturing that to support the research that they're doing at Penn State, in addition to supporting their goals for training as many people as possible who are in the role or have the responsibility of being a mandated reporter.
Susan: It's going to be really exciting to work with him to build on his success and try to really make a difference in keeping kids safe.
Luke: Yes, I'm sure we can have some future episodes that involve the project and some of the other stakeholders who are involved.
Susan: For sure. It's a date. I'll get you on the calendar.
Luke: Sounds good, Susan.
Susan: Thanks, Luke. If you have a suggestion for a topic or a guest, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.