Case Study

Using SocioLearner for oral communication skills practice and evaluation


Vancouver Community College (VCC)


Professional Communication for Healthcare Professionals


Jane Forward


to provide a platform for students to practice and be evaluated on spoken communication skills specific to the Hospital Unit Coordinator and Medical Office Assistant positions.


Use SocioLearner from LearningBranch for spoken assignments that are part of the Professional Communication program.


Vancouver Community College serves a diverse urban community by providing programs and services to prepare learners for ongoing education, direct entry into employment, career advancement and greater participation in the community.

The Health Unit Coordinator (HUC) and Medical Office Assistant (MOA) programs enable students to apply for jobs in the healthcare field after one year or less of training. The programs are popular and routinely fill to capacity. Students average 30 years of age and come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The communication competency required to succeed in these professions is very high. To meet the requirements and help students pass their practicums and get jobs, the VCC programs include a course in Professional Communication. The course covers communication concepts and practical skills via role rehearsals of socio-cultural competencies. (more on socio-cultural competencies)

The Professional Communication course uses the following elements:

  • • classroom theory and discussions
  • • videos showing typical workplace scenarios with ineffective and effective behaviours
  • • eLearning modules to practice listening and to record exercises on typical workplace scenarios (See case study on LearningBranch modules.)
  • • classroom role-rehearsals
  • • written assignments to provide personal reflections on concepts learned

What’s missing?

With only 8 to 10 classroom sessions per course, there is limited time to put concepts into practice and to interact with the instructor. Live activities such as classroom role-plays are time-consuming and require extensive preparation. Often participants are self-conscious and do not perform well.

The Professional Communication course requires that all students be proficient in leaving a voicemail. Initially, participants practiced leaving the voicemail by calling the instructor’s cellphone and leaving a message, which the instructor then listened to and marked. This did not work well. It was time-consuming to evaluate, required a scheduled classroom session to execute and did not provide any opportunity for instructor interaction or feedback.

SocioLearner from LearningBranch was the perfect solution for this task. It allows:

  • • the instructor to create the relevant activity using text and audio,
  • • the students to record their answers to the text and audio prompts from their mobile phone or home computer,
  • • the instructor to listen to the recorded answers and place comments on precise spots on the students audio track,
  • • the students to pick-up the feedback and record further attempts.

How it worked

Two classes used SocioLearner for 3 assignments in October and November 2015. The assignments provided the students with relevant background information, then required the student to leave a voicemail message.

SocioLearner Instructions

The student uses the information provided in the instructions and then clicks Record to leave an attempt. Students can record multiple times and playback their recordings. Each attempt is saved. The student can star their best attempt to notify the instructor.

SocioLearner Recording

The instructor can then evaluate, score, and leave comments at her convenience. For this activity, messages were assessed on thought organization, relevancy, accuracy and conciseness of information, voice quality, and effective pausing and spelling out names where required.

SocioLearner Instructor View

The student can playback the marked up recording and see the instructor’s text comments or play the oral comments.


Three SocioLearner assignments were completed in October and November 2015. A total of 17 students in HUC and 23 students in MOA participated.

Students used either their home computers or mobile phones to access the assignment. Two students used desktop computers on the college campus and needed support for recording. There were no significant issues with students using their own devices.

Each student made between 1 and 6 recordings with an average of 1.6 attempts per student. The instructor made on average 4.2 comments on each student’s audio track. 2 learners made comments on their own recordings.

Survey results

At the end of the program, students were asked to review their experience with SocioLearner. Specifically, they were asked how helpful the activity was in improving their workplace professional communication skills.

83% of responses marked the course as very important for improving professional communication skills for the workplace. Participants’ responses are summarized below.

[masterslider id=”8″]

Number of participants who said…

How important was the activity…

“very important”

“somewhat important”

“not important”

for your work skills in general and personal improvement?




for your ability to perform on the job in any healthcare field?




for your ability to perform on the job as a health unit coordinator?




for your ability to get a job?




for your practicum?





SocioLearner is a valuable tool for students and instructors to use to practice oral communication skills and to get relevant and precise feedback.


  • • Students get live practice using an authentic scenario.
  • • The practice is in a private, safe environment; learners can experiment with different ways of organizing the information and get comfortable with a way of speaking.
  • • Instructors can place precise feedback with comments on the students’ audio tracks.
  • • Learners can use instructor feedback and make further attempts.
  • • Instructors can increase opportunities for practice outside of classroom time.
  • • Students get more interaction with the instructor outside of classroom time.

Further activities

SocioLearner is a customizable platform for new activities. Other possible assignments include:

  • • Recording a self-introduction
  • • Leaving messages regarding patient transfers, booking appointments, or requests for information
  • • Clarifying doctor’s instructions
  • • Receiving or giving feedback

Activities can also be setup as collaborative so that students can listen to each other’s recordings and leave comments.

Instructor comments

The college does not track students’ success after graduation. However, there is tracking of performance at practicums. The Professional Communication Course continues to be an important factor in students’ preparation for and success at their practicums.

The practice and role-plays we can provide online with the SocioLearner are an important part of the learning experience.

Student comments

The course helped me communicate better with other healthcare professionals. It helped me step out of my comfort zone and try new things in communications. I feel that especially the video examples were helpful as they showed the right tone of voice and way of responding to different scenarios.

It has helped me communicate effectively with nurses and staff during my practicum. I think that future students will benefit from this online course to help them communicate when they step into a healthcare or any work place.

I found the components of the course very helpful in improving my communication skills. The recordings were especially helpful as they gave me an opportunity to play back the message I left. In addition, the classroom sessions helped and complimented the learning modules very well.

I felt that the course was very helpful. The modules helped me a lot and were very clear. The professional communications skills course can improve in areas such as the videos. I felt that there could have been more options to record our own voice and listen back to different scenarios. For example, when watching the wrong/right way to respond to someone. It would have been great to have a page where we could record our voice to compare it to the video showing the right way to respond to someone. Overall, I felt like I learned a lot from the course and it has been very helpful so far in my practicum! Thank you!

What are Socio-Cultural Competencies (SCC)?

SCCs are the universal competencies required for interpersonal communication. VCC has adapted an SCC model to organize and presenting Professional Communication Skills, as follows:



Social Contact and Conversation

Active Listening, Empathy, Small Talk, Interrupting

Asking For / Relaying Information

Clarifying, Organizing Thoughts, Paraphrasing, Summarizing

Receiving Feedback

Acknowledging Errors, Active Listening

Giving Feedback

Noticing Mistakes, Clarifying vs Judging

Refusing a Request

Handling Disagreements

The model is based on the work of Dr. Ishu Ishiyama (UBC, Canada), Dr. Marvin Westwood (UBC, Canada), Dr. Anita Mak (University of Canberra, Australia) and Dr. Michelle Barker (Griffith University, Australia).

Why learn professional communication skills?

Health Unit Coordinators, also called Nursing Unit Clerks, are the coordinators staffing the desk of a hospital floor. Excellent communication skills are critical for success in this role. Coordinators interact with doctors, nurses, technicians, staff, patients and visitors in an often fast-paced and stressful environment.

Medical Office Assistants are on the phone most of the day with clients and other professionals or talking face-to-face with clients in a clinic or medical environment. These settings need specialized vocabulary and abbreviations that must be learned ahead of time. Inaccuracy is not tolerated, so coordinators must be skilled at asking clarifying questions, paraphrasing and summarizing.

The environments can be diverse and hierarchical; staff must be able to interact professionally with doctors, other staff, as well as patients and visitors who may be in distress.

Excellent communication skills are a requirement for success in these professions.