TrainSMART 4.0 Improves Data Collection for Pre-Service Institutions

November 5, 2012

In countries around the world, I-TECH’s TrainSMART is helping leaders collect, monitor, and report data on in-service trainings and trainees. Now, an updated version will also support the data collection and reporting needs of pre-service institutions.



The power is out and the backup generator is down at St. Luke Nurse Training School, in southern Malawi, but that doesn’t slow I-TECH’s Robert McLaughlin, an information technology systems expert, and the school’s principal, Maxwell Pangani.

Seated by an open window in Pangani’s office, the two men are enthusiastically discussing an important new direction for St. Luke. Soon, this school, along with nine others operated by the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM), will begin using I-TECH’s computer-based Training System Monitoring and Reporting Tool, or “TrainSMART,” to gather and organize the school’s data.

It’s a change with broad benefits for St. Luke. Right now, Pangani’s staff sometimes struggle even to monitor which students stay enrolled from one semester to the next. With the new system, they’ll have a way to quickly and efficiently gather data not only on enrollment, but also on coursework, grades, and other key information for the hundreds of nursing students they train.

TrainSMART in Malawi

TrainSMART is currently used by governments and non-governmental organizations in more than 33 countries worldwide. The program allows users to accurately track data about training programs, trainers, and trainees. It also allows them to create and print different kinds of reports, making it easier for leaders like Pangani to evaluate their data and share information with colleagues and funders. TrainSMART is built on an open-source, web-based platform, so it can be more easily customized. And because it is used by an international community of trainers, each time a system improvement is made for one team, the benefit can be rolled out to all users.

Even better, TrainSMART is designed to be used in resource-limited settings, so Pangani’s team won’t have to struggle to use the program. “I-TECH understands many of the realities schools like St. Luke face,” says McLaughlin. “Power outages and  limited Internet connectivity are common, and staff are working with a system that is new to them.” Among other features,  the program has an intuitive interface, along with user and security features that allow leaders to choose who has access to data. And because computers and Internet aren’t viable for every context, the system can also be used together with paper data collection forms.

In Malawi, I-TECH’s TrainSMART team is also working with local stakeholders to help some schools improve or introduce Internet connectivity. This new access, McLaughlin notes, is “in and of itself an exciting step for schools,” and one that may otherwise prove elusive. By expediting better Internet access for TrainSMART, he says, “I-TECH is also opening a window of access to many other web-based resources.”

Students at the CHAM Trinity College of Nursing. Photo: Rose Wasili

Updating TrainSMART for Pre-Service

TrainSMART’s use in Malawi is significant for another reason, as well.  Until recently, the program wasn’t configured to meet the needs of schools like St. Luke. It was designed primarily for “in-service” training: instruction designed to upgrade the skills of practicing health care workers. As its use grew, however, users expressed an interest in customizing the system to support “pre-service” training institutions: those responsible for preparing students to enter their profession for the first time. Malawi’s CHAM institutions, which train the vast majority of the country’s nurses, were a good place to begin. Based on its experience with CHAM, I-TECH’s TrainSMART team has added features catered to the unique needs of pre-service groups, and in September, these improvements were released to users worldwide as TrainSMART 4.0.

A National Impact

In Malawi, the benefits of TrainSMART extend far beyond each school. Because CHAM is responsible for training so many students, and because it will have access to data from all of its schools, the program will improve in data collection and planning at the national level, as well. Aggregated pre-service data will help CHAM leaders, along with planners from the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) National HIV Department, target their efforts to grow the national health care workforce.

McLaughlin notes that TrainSMART has other cross-cutting benefits, as well. For example, he says, the system monitors where students are deployed by the HIV Department after they graduate, and where they are serving a year later, which helps the MOH systematically monitor and address nursing resources in Malawi. In short, says McLaughlin, “The new pre service module will help local institutions, in Malawi and around the world, fully understand their students, and it will help local governments understand the changing face of their workforce.”

TrainSMART at the National HIV Department

In addition to its pre-service work in Malawi, I-TECH is also working with Malawi’s National HIV Department, which is responsible for training practicing health care workers throughout the country. Soon, the Department will use TrainSMART to collect key data for in-service trainings on antiretroviral treatment and on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. I-TECH and the Department are also discussing ways that the database can be hosted locally, which can build local capacity and pave the way for a smooth transition to local ownership.

Screen Shot of TrainSMART

Demonstration screen shot of the TrainSMART pre-service interface. Users can enter data on each student, including his or her age, cohort, classes, and other details.

Next Steps

As with any large-scale implementation, bringing TrainSMART to Malawi requires broad effort. For the past year, I-TECH and local partners have been working to prepare and customize the system, improve connectivity, organize and produce training materials, ready monitoring and evaluation systems, and dozens of other tasks. Still, the program is well on its way to supporting a qualified health care workforce in Malawi.

For Pangani, the change can’t come soon enough.  Back in his office at St. Luke, he gestures to a large filing cabinet. “See that?” he asks, getting up to open a drawer of wide three-ring binders. “Before, if CHAM asked us to provide information on our students, it could take two of our employees a week to gather that information.
–With TrainSMART, it will take us ten minutes!”

Learn more about TrainSMART:
To learn more about TrainSMART, including information on the system’s history, features, technical details, and use around the world; and to watch a short video about the system, visit the TrainSMART website.

Learn more about I-TECH Malawi

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