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Implementation of an e-Learning course in physical activity and sedentary behavior for pre- and in-service early childhood educators: Evaluation of the TEACH pilot study

Abstract

Background

Childcare-based physical activity (PA) and sedentary behavior (SB) interventions have traditionally used in-person training to supplement early childhood educators’ (ECEs) knowledge and confidence to facilitate physically active programming for the children in their care. However, this method of delivery is resource-intensive and unable to reach a high number of ECEs. The purpose of the Training pre-service EArly CHildhood educators in PA (TEACH) pilot study was to test the implementation (e.g., fidelity, feasibility, acceptability) of an e-Learning course targeting PA and SB among a sample of pre-service (i.e., post-secondary students) and in-service (i.e., practicing) ECEs in Canada.

Methods

A pre-/post-study design was adopted for this pilot study, and implementation outcomes were assessed cross-sectionally at post-intervention. Pre-service ECEs were purposefully recruited from three Canadian colleges and in-service ECEs were recruited via social media. Upon completing the e-Learning course, process evaluation surveys (n = 32 pre-service and 121 in-service ECEs) and interviews (n = 3 pre-service and 8 in-service ECEs) were completed to gather ECEs’ perspectives on the e-Learning course. Fidelity was measured via e-Learning course metrics retrieved from the web platform. Descriptive statistics were calculated for quantitative data, and thematic analysis was conducted to analyze qualitative data.

Results

Moderate-to-high fidelity to the TEACH study e-Learning course was exhibited by pre-service (68%) and in-service (63%) ECEs. Participants reported that the course was highly acceptable, compatible, effective, feasible, and appropriate in complexity; however, some ECEs experienced technical difficulties with the e-Learning platform and noted a longer than anticipated course duration. The most enjoyed content for pre- and in-service ECEs focused on outdoor play (87.5% and 91.7%, respectively) and risky play (84.4% and 88.4%, respectively).

Conclusions

These findings demonstrate the value of e-Learning for professional development interventions for ECEs. Participant feedback will be used to make improvements to the TEACH e-Learning course to improve scalability of this training.

Peer Review reports

Key messages regarding feasibility

  • With the recent shift to virtual platforms for professional learning interventions for early childhood educators (ECEs), little is known about the feasibility of using e-Learning to deliver physical activity and sedentary behavior-related training among this population.

  • This pilot study showed that the TEACH study e-Learning course was well-received by both pre-service and in-service ECEs and that it improved their knowledge and confidence to facilitate more physically active and less sedentary programming. Both groups also reported that the e-Learning platform was convenient to work into their schedules, promoted their learning, and would be feasible to integrate into pre- and in-service ECE training.

  • Findings from this study will be used to make improvements to the e-Learning course (e.g., enhancing mobile compatibility, creating shorter modules) to promote scalability of the intervention.

Background

Early childhood educators (ECEs) are important role models for young children (<5 years) in childcare [1] and can profoundly influence their movement behaviors (e.g., physical activity, sedentary behavior [i.e., exerting little energy in a sitting/reclining posture]) [2]. In fact, ECEs’ confidence [3] and values [4] regarding physical activity, as well as their own physical activity levels [2, 5] and the amount of physical activity-related training they have completed [6, 7], have all been associated with children’s physical activity levels in childcare. Given the importance of promoting healthy movement behaviors in early childhood [8], which is when young children establish health-related habits [9], it is essential that ECEs are educated about physical activity and sedentary behavior and engaged in health-promoting practices themselves so that they are confident, willing, and able to incorporate appropriate amounts of high-quality movement experiences for children in their care.

Although sedentary behavior-related content is largely missing from existing professional learning initiatives, several previous childcare-based interventions have included physical activity training for ECEs [10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17]; many of which have been successful at increasing young children’s physical activity while in care [11,12,13, 16]. For example, an intervention led by Pate and colleagues (2016), involving in-person training for ECEs regarding the promotion of structured and unstructured physical activity and active learning, was shown to be effective at increasing preschoolers’ (n = 379) moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) [12]. Similarly, Hoffman and colleagues (2020) administered online training in physical activity for ECEs, and children whose educators received the training increased their daily MVPA by nearly 13 min [13]. However, mixed results have been noted regarding the effectiveness of training interventions at improving ECEs’ knowledge and confidence regarding physical activity; some studies have reported improvements in these outcomes [3, 18], while others have reported no change [19]. While measuring effectiveness of interventions is important, it is beneficial to look at implementation outcomes and determinants of both effective and ineffective interventions to provide context as to which components of implementation help or hinder intervention success.

To guide researchers regarding the implementation and scale-up of interventions relating to physical activity and nutrition, McKay and colleagues [20] conducted a Delphi study to generate consensus on implementation and scale-up frameworks, indicators, and measures. From this study [20], a minimum set of implementation outcomes (n = 5) and determinants (n = 10) was created, which included indicators such as fidelity, sustainability, acceptability, and feasibility (among others). Previous childcare-based ECE training interventions have reported on these implementation outcomes and determinants; frequently, fidelity and acceptability scored high [21,22,23], while mixed results have been found for feasibility [21, 22]. These findings provide insight into which implementation outcomes and determinants (e.g., feasibility) should be targeted with greater attention and support in future ECE physical activity training interventions to achieve better success.

While a number of childcare-based physical activity interventions have included ECE training [10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17, 23], few have employed training as the sole intervention component [12,13,14, 16], and training was often used to educate ECEs about a physical activity-promoting program they were required to administer [12, 16, 17, 23] rather than to provide ECEs with general knowledge and strategies to facilitate active childcare settings. Additionally, a lack of focus in previous training interventions has been apparent concerning educating ECEs about sedentary behavior and risky play. Most studies only focus on physical activity uniquely [10, 12, 15, 17, 23] or in combination with nutrition education [18, 24]. However, with in-person training often reported as resource-intensive and lacking scalability, advances in training interventions for ECEs have since moved training online, via webinars and e-Learning courses [18, 19, 25, 26]. As such, the goal of the Training pre-service EArly CHildhood educators in physical activity (TEACH) study was to improve ECEs’ knowledge, confidence, and intentions regarding promoting healthy movement behaviors by providing comprehensive training in physical activity and sedentary behavior in childcare settings via an e-Learning course. To achieve this goal, a pilot study was undertaken to test the short-term efficacy and explore implementation of the e-Learning course with both pre-service ECEs (i.e., post-secondary students enrolled in an ECE program) and in-service ECEs (i.e., those who have completed their schooling and are employed in a childcare setting). This paper presents the evaluation undertaken to examine implementation of the TEACH pilot study.

Methods

A pre-post (within-subjects) study design was employed for the TEACH pilot study, and implementation outcomes were measured cross-sectionally post-intervention via an online survey, interviews, and e-Learning course metrics. This process evaluation examined 13 implementation outcomes and determinants selected from recommendations by McKay et al. [20] and the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR) [27] and with consideration to those that were able to be measured within the pilot study design. These outcomes and determinants included dose delivered, fidelity, acceptability, feasibility, compatibility, complexity, self-efficacy, context, perceived effectiveness, perceived benefits, motivation, tension for change, and relative priority. See Table 1 for the TEACH pilot study implementation outcomes/determinants and the corresponding data source(s) and analyses. This study was approved by the Non-Medical Research Ethics Board at Western University (REB# 116816).

Table 1 Implementation outcomes and determinants of the TEACH pilot study

Study procedures and participant recruitment

Pre-service ECEs from three purposefully selected (based on location and class size) Canadian colleges with an early childhood education program were recruited; one college from Ontario, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. In-service ECEs employed in various childcare settings across Canada were also recruited, via social media advertisements, to participate in this study. Participants were recruited from March to May 2021, and implied consent was given by commencing the first survey. For additional details about pilot study participants and recruitment, consult Bruijns et al. [28].

Following a baseline survey, pre- and in-service ECEs completed an e-Learning course in physical activity and sedentary behavior in early childhood. The course content was developed via a Delphi process [29], and the e-Learning course comprised four modules (each of which was approximately 90 min in length). To pass each module, participants needed to score 10 out of 12 correct responses on a knowledge assessment (which included multiple-choice and matching questions to test learners on module content). Unlimited attempts were provided to pass each assessment. Participants were encouraged to complete the e-Learning course within a 2-week timeframe; however, e-Learning accounts were not deactivated until the study closure date (i.e., participants were allowed to take more than 2 weeks to complete the course). Upon receiving their e-Learning course certificate, the participants were directed to a follow-up survey. Pre-service ECEs were required by their instructors to complete the e-Learning course in its entirety, but pre- and post-course surveys were completed voluntarily. One college provided in-person class time to complete the e-Learning course, while the other two colleges provided virtual (unmonitored) class time. In-service ECEs completed all study elements (i.e., surveys and the e-Learning course) on their own volition. For more details about the course and its development, consult the study protocol for the TEACH study (Tucker et al.: Training pre-service EArly CHildhood educators in physical activity (TEACH): Protocol for a quasi-experimental study, revision requested).

Tools

e-Learning course metrics

Course metrics available through the web-based learning management system (LMS; i.e., TalentLMS) platform were retrieved, including the percent of registered learners who successfully completed the course (fidelity); completion rate of modules (dose delivered); percent of learners who passed each end-of-module knowledge assessment on the first, second, or third (or more) attempt (complexity); and the average number of days it took learners to complete the course (feasibility).

Process evaluation survey

An online process evaluation survey was developed and administered via Qualtrics for the purposes of this study, informed by the Evaluating E-Learning System Success (EESS) model [30]. The survey comprised 38 items, with 34 of these items rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). These 34 items (Cronbach’s α = 0.98 and 0.94 for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively) were grouped into the following implementation outcomes and determinants: acceptability (n = 10 items), complexity (n = 5 items), self-efficacy (n = 2 items), compatibility (n = 1 item), perceived effectiveness (n = 8 items), perceived benefits (n = 3 items), content novelty (n = 1 item), and motivation (n = 4 items). An additional four questions were designed to gather participants’ perspectives on the course content, delivery, challenges experienced, and suggestions for improvement (two of which allowed for open-ended responses).

Interviews

At the end of the follow-up survey, ECEs were asked whether they would participate in a 20 to 30-min Zoom interview to discuss their experiences with the course. Randomly selected volunteers from the pre- and in-service ECE study populations were contacted via email to schedule an interview time. Following verbal consent, all interviews were conducted by BAB using a semi-structured interview guide (Additional File 1) that was informed by codebook guidelines from the CFIR [31]. In the interviews, ECEs were asked to share their perspectives regarding their likes and dislikes about the course, the complexity of the course content and assessments, course elements that supported/hindered their learning, course content that was new to them, how the course compared to previous e-Learning courses they had taken, suggestions for improvement, and the extent to which they thought the course would integrate well into post-secondary early childhood education curricula. Saturation was reached after six interviews for in-service ECEs; however, two additional interviews were completed to confirm findings. Due to the small number of pre-service ECE volunteers, only three interviews were conducted. All interviews took place between April and May 2021 and were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Data analysis

Descriptive statistics were conducted in Excel Workbook to analyze e-Learning course metrics and in SPSS (version 27) to analyze quantitative data from the online survey (independently by study group). Means (M) and standard deviations (SD) were calculated for average days needed to complete the course and Likert scale responses from the process evaluation survey. Frequencies were calculated to report the percent of learners who passed the course (in its entirety), total modules completed, learners who passed end-of-module knowledge assessments on the first attempt or multiple attempts, learners’ preferred/novel topic areas of the course, and course delivery elements (e.g., text, audio, video) that best supported participants’ learning. Using deductive pre-planned codes from the interview guide, thematic analysis was completed in QSR NVivo (version 12) to analyze interview transcripts and open-ended survey questions. Two researchers coded the interview transcripts independently and identified common themes within each study population (pre- and in-service ECEs). To minimize confirmation bias, a research assistant was recruited solely to code the data (and was not directly involved in the research project). Trustworthiness of the data was ensured throughout by following Patton’s [32] recommendations regarding credibility, confirmability, dependability, and transferability (e.g., member-checking).

Results

Participant demographics and e-learning course metrics

A total of 51 pre-service and 274 in-service ECEs were recruited for the pilot study. Of the 71Footnote 1 and 199 pre- and in-service ECEs who registered for the course, 48 (67.6%) and 125 (62.8%) pre- and in-service ECEs successfully completed the course, respectively. For dose delivered, 93.9% and 90.5% of modules were completed by pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively. Across the four end-of-module knowledge assessments, 29.4% and 53.8% of pre- and in-service ECEs passed on the first attempt, 33.3% and 24.8% passed on the second attempt, and 37.3% and 21.4% needed three or more attempts to pass, respectively. The mean number of days it took pre- and in-service ECEs to complete the course was 4.3 (SD = 11.5) and 13.1 (SD = 12.3) days, respectively.

A total of 32 pre-service ECEs and 121 in-service ECEs completed the process evaluation survey (response rates of 62.7% and 44.2%, respectively). Pre-service ECEs were 26.7 years old (SD = 6.9), and the majority were female (93.8%). The most prevalent self-reported racial or cultural identities were South Asian (28.1%) or First Nations/Inuit/Métis (28.1%). Most participants reported having previous experience with e-learning courses/workshops (65.6%). In-service ECEs were 37.1 years old (SD = 9.5), and most were Caucasian (66.1%) and had experience with e-learning courses or workshops (70.2%). See Bruijns et al. (2022) [28] for complete participant demographics.

Perspectives on course content and delivery

Pre-service ECEs reported enjoying the Introduction to Physical Activity (87.5%) and Outdoor Play (87.5%) topics the most and least enjoyed the content on Creating Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Policies (15.6%). In-service ECEs enjoyed the content on Loose Parts Play the most (92.6%) and the Video Library of Activities the least (26.4%). For pre- and in-service ECEs, the top content areas that represented new topics for them were How to Track and Set Goals for Movement Behaviours in Childcare (37.5%) and The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (46.3%), respectively. See Table 2 for frequencies of ECEs’ preferences and perspectives of novelty for all course topics.

Table 2 Pre- and in-service early childhood educators’ preference for and novelty of topic areas in the e-learning course
Table 3 Pre- and in-service early childhood educators’ perspectives on e-learning course implementation

Of the design elements used in the e-Learning course (i.e., text, voiceover, images, animations, videos, within-module knowledge checks, and end-of-module knowledge assessments), most pre-service ECEs communicated that the elements that best facilitated their learning were the images (81.3%) and videos (75.0%), while only 43.8% reported that the animations helped facilitate their learning. In contrast, in-service ECEs communicated that the within-module knowledge checks (81.0%), text (73.6%), and video (73.6%) elements were most supportive to their learning. Like pre-service ECEs, a minority of in-service ECEs (38.0%) reported that the animations facilitated their learning.

Process evaluation survey implementation outcomes

Across 10 items (ranked on a 5-point Likert scale), pre- and in-service ECEs rated the acceptability of the e-learning course very high on the 5-point scale (M range = 4.52 to 4.71 and 4.50 to 4.80 for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively). Complexity of the course (including its usability, flexibility, clearness of instructions, organization, and conciseness) was also positively rated by both pre-service (M range = 4.61 to 4.71) and in-service ECEs (M range = 4.47 to 4.79). Pre- and in-service ECEs also demonstrated that they had high self-efficacy to complete the course (M range = 4.65 to 4.68 and 4.16 to 4.68 for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively) and agreed that the course was compatible with their ECE training (M = 4.71 [SD = .78] and 4.64 [SD = .76] for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively). When asked to rate the perceived effectiveness of the course at facilitating their learning and increasing their physical activity and sedentary behaviour-related knowledge, pre- and in-service ECEs reported high scores (M range = 4.42 to 4.73 and 4.45 to 4.74 for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively). ECEs were also positive about the perceived benefits of the e-Learning course (M range = 4.71 to 4.74 and 4.77 to 4.79 for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively) and reported feeling motivated to both complete the course (M range = 4.50 to 4.55 and 4.56 to 4.74 for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively) and further their learning in physical activity (M = 4.65 [SD = .84] and 4.50 [SD = .95] for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively) and sedentary behavior (M = 4.52 [SD = .89] and 4.42 [SD = .86] for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively). Pre- and in-service ECEs provided a moderate rating for the novelty of the course content (M = 3.77 [SD = 1.12] and 3.48 [SD = 1.14] for pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively); however, SDs for this item were higher than other items, demonstrating greater variability in participant perspectives. See Table 3 for complete ratings for each implementation determinant/outcome.

Qualitative perspectives

Twenty distinct themes were referenced by pre- and in-service ECEs (via interviews with 3 and 8 pre- and in-service ECEs, respectively, and text responses in the anonymous survey). These themes represented the following implementation determinants and outcomes: acceptability (n = 1 theme), feasibility (n = 3 themes), compatibility (n = 2 themes), complexity (n = 2 themes), context (n = 3 themes), perceived effectiveness (n = 2 themes), perceived benefits (n = 2 themes), motivation (n = 2 themes), tension for change (n = 2 themes), and relative priority (n = 1 theme). Overall, ECEs were very satisfied with the course; one participant noted, “I give it an A++, it was amazing!”, while another commented that “it was the best online workshop I’ve taken.” Further, respondents stated that “the course was straightforward and easy to follow,” while also noting that the e-Learning platform was convenient and “time-friendly” to work into their already busy schedules. However, they also commented on the longer than anticipated duration of the course and suggested that breaking the course into smaller modules would promote motivation and would fit more easily into their schedules. Participants also suggested adding in a discussion forum to make the experience more interactive. While many participants communicated that they appreciated the various design elements (e.g., text, audio, video, external links) in the course, some ECEs reported having technological issues when using a mobile device.

Several ECEs commented on the wealth of new information they learned; one ECE said that they found “lots of topics were new” to them, while another stated that they “did not truly understand the importance of physical activity until [they] took this course.” Even though certain ECEs mentioned that some of the course content was more reinforcement of information they already knew, one ECE noted that it still “gave [them] a new passion for teaching children about physical literacy and the importance of it.” Many ECEs also reported that the course increased their knowledge and confidence to promote physical activity in childcare. For example, one ECE noted that they “love[d] the knowledge it gave [them],” while another commented that “it wasn’t until this course that [they] were actually confident in implementing risky play.” One ECE even mentioned that they have “already started trying to do more active transitions and…active breaks” to reduce prolonged sedentary time in their classroom, highlighting the applicability of the course content to childcare practice. Additionally, many participants stressed the importance of learning this content for those in their profession and that this course would be a welcomed addition to pre-service ECE curricula. For example, one ECE commented that “it should be part of [their] ECE learning right from the college level,” while another reported that the course “could be easily incorporated into an ECE program all across the country.” See Table 4 for example quotations for all themes.

Table 4 Pre- and in-service early childhood educators’ perspectives on the implementation of the TEACH study e-learning course

Discussion

This process evaluation of the TEACH pilot study aimed to highlight implementation factors that contributed to feasibility of the intervention for scale-up. Both pre- and in-service ECEs exhibited moderate-to-high fidelity to the TEACH study e-Learning course and communicated that the course was highly acceptable, compatible, effective, feasible, and appropriate in complexity. Challenges reported by ECEs included technical difficulties with the e-Learning (LMS) platform when using mobile devices and a longer than anticipated course duration. These results highlight areas of improvement for the e-Learning course and its delivery prior to scale-up in pre-service ECE programs across Canada and offer unique implementation perspectives with respect to online training interventions for ECEs.

Overall, both pre- and in-service ECEs responded well to the e-Learning mode of delivery of the course. They reported that the online training effectively facilitated their learning and made it convenient to work into their schedules. The self-paced nature of the course allowed participants to take notes and review sections of content. The benefits of e-Learning compared to in-person delivery have been echoed in previous online training interventions for ECEs; for example, Kennedy and colleagues [21] and Ward and colleagues [19] both cited that the convenience of online learning supported participation and intervention fidelity among ECEs in their respective studies. Participants in the present study indicated that they thoroughly enjoyed the various design elements and commented that having so many videos and knowledge checks throughout the course supported their learning. However, participants did suggest that adding a discussion forum component to the LMS platform would enhance their experience by making it more interactive, a component of in-person learning they valued. This is consistent with recommendations from Peden et al. [33] which suggested that peer mentoring via forums would promote ongoing discussions and provide a sense of belonging in the ECE community. Therefore, future e-Learning courses for ECEs should consider incorporating such discussion board elements to extend ECEs’ learning beyond what is presented in the course and allow ECEs to network with peers with similar professional learning interests.

In addition to ECEs’ positive perspectives of the e-Learning mode of delivery, the e-Learning course itself showed moderate-to-high fidelity, and dose delivered was close to 100%. These results were encouraging, particularly considering the intervention was delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic, when pre-service ECEs were less engaged in their class community (due to distance learning) and in-service ECEs were tasked with additional responsibilities (e.g., ensuring cleanliness and distancing within their classrooms were maintained). When compared to other online training interventions for ECEs, Hoffman and colleagues [26] reported that 100% of participating ECEs completed their physical activity online training workshop (60 min); however, it is important to note the shorter course duration and that ECEs were able to complete the training during working hours, both of which likely contributed to the high-fidelity reported. In contrast, Kennedy and colleagues [21] reported that for their online training modules, 19 of the 26 participating ECEs (73%) completed the full training, and the average course completion rate (i.e., dose delivered) was 92.6%. The latter findings are more consistent with fidelity and dose delivered results from in-service ECEs in the present study, likely due to the similar course duration and completing the course outside of work hours. Notably, pre-service ECEs in the present study completed the course in fewer days and reported higher intervention fidelity and dose delivered than in-service ECEs—likely a function of being provided class time (in-person or virtually) to complete the course. As such, these findings highlight important considerations, such as time to complete the training, for future implementation in post-secondary ECE programs and as professional learning for in-service ECEs to promote fidelity, feasibility, and dose delivered.

With respect to course content, nearly all topics were reported to be enjoyable by ECEs. However, of note, the large majority of both pre- and in-service ECEs selected both outdoor play and risky play as their favorite topics. This preference is consistent with recent literature, which has echoed the growing interest in outdoor and risky play among those working in early learning settings. For example, Dietze and Kashin [34] analyzed discussion forum responses from Canadian ECEs (n = 207) who participated in an online course in outdoor play pedagogy; participants communicated that formal training in outdoor play was lacking from their post-secondary program and that participating in the online course gave them new knowledge in this area. ECEs in Dietze and Kashin’s study [34] also agreed that those in their profession should be made more aware of the importance of outdoor and risky play in early childhood, noting the importance of overcoming hesitancies of risk-averse colleagues and parents through education. These findings are similar to those from the present study, where ECEs suggested that taking the TEACH study e-Learning course increased their comfort levels with risky play, while they also recommended that all ECEs should take the course. As such, increased opportunities for outdoor and risky play-related education, via formal pre-service schooling and professional learning opportunities, seem to be desired by ECEs to build their capacity to support these types of active play experiences for children in their care.

In addition to ECEs’ reported interest in the course content, both pre- and in-service ECEs communicated that this type of education is important and necessary for all ECEs. Yet, many participants voiced their concerns over not having learned much about physical activity or sedentary behavior during their pre-service schooling. Participants noted that topics relating to physical activity and sedentary behavior were often mentioned, but not discussed in any substantive detail. These perspectives confirm the findings from Bruijns et al. [35] who found that only 32.2% and 26.7% of Canadian pre-service ECEs (n = 1292) reported having received physical activity and screen-viewing-related education in their college/university ECE program, respectively. Consequently, in-service ECEs have consistently requested to receive additional training and support in these areas [34, 36, 37]. However, it was encouraging to find that many TEACH pilot study participants were optimistic about the feasibility of integrating this e-Learning course into pre-service ECE programs and that the course aligned well with ECE philosophy. While a number of childcare-based interventions have used professional development to enhance intervention effectiveness [38], ensuring ECEs receive comprehensive education about physical activity and sedentary behavior in their formal schooling is important to help scaffold their development of a health-promoting teaching philosophy.

Strengths and limitations

While this pilot study has many strengths, such as the inclusion of both pre- and in-service ECEs and the evaluation of 13 distinct implementation outcomes and determinants via triangulation of e-Learning metrics, survey, and interview data, this work’s limitations must be discussed. First, this study was conducted during the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, when post-secondary ECE programs were mainly delivered virtually and in-service ECEs were tasked with additional responsibilities at their workplaces. As such, pre-service ECEs were not as engaged with their program instructors (who helped facilitate students’ recruitment and participation), resulting in a lower than anticipated sample size. Further, due to the increased workplace demands, in-service ECEs lacked time to be able to complete the course in the recommended timeframe, resulting in lower course completion rates (i.e., fidelity) and longer course completion timeframes (i.e., feasibility). Second, the small pre-service ECE sample size limited the number of volunteers that could be invited to participate in an interview. Due to competing demands of schoolwork and family commitments, only three participants volunteered; therefore, saturation in this study population could not be reached. Third, volunteer bias may have been present for the interview data, as it is more likely that participants who had a positive experience with the course volunteered to discuss their experiences with it than those who may have had a more negative experience. Fourth, it is possible that recruitment methods (i.e., social media and email advertisements) for in-service ECEs may have introduced selection bias, as this may have unduly targeted in-service ECEs already familiar with online platforms. Finally, while a diverse sample of both pre- and in-service ECEs was achieved, results from this study may not be generalizable to a future full-scale study sample or other research with this population.

Research implications and future directions

The TEACH e-Learning course may be the first online professional learning opportunity that covers a broad range of movement behavior concepts in early childhood, including, but not limited to, physical activity, sedentary behavior, 24-h movement behavior guidelines, physical literacy, fundamental movement skills, outdoor play, risky play, and loose parts play. As such, there is great potential for this course to be adapted for use in other countries, particularly in countries where 24-h movement guidelines have been adopted. As the objectives of this pilot study were to improve broader implementation by gathering feedback about the e-Learning course content, delivery, and select implementation elements during a small window of time, reach, adoption, and sustainability of the e-Learning course could not be explored. However, with 48 pre-service and 125 in-service ECEs having completed the course, over 1000 young Canadian children (based on Ontario’s ECE to preschooler ratio of 1:8 [39]) will have ECEs who are more knowledgeable and confident in facilitating active opportunities in the childcare setting. Longer-term implementation of the e-Learning course and assessing changes to childcare practices of participating ECEs will be key to determining whether the TEACH e-Learning course is a sustainable and effective professional learning initiative. Further, implementing in a larger sample of pre-service ECE programs, and including perspectives of ECE program instructors, will help determine the feasibility and appropriateness of integrating the TEACH e-Learning course into post-secondary ECE curricula across Canada.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the TEACH e-Learning course appeared to be an implementation success and pre- and in-service ECEs were highly satisfied with their experience. Despite some technical difficulties experienced by a small number of learners, participants reported that the course effectively facilitated their learning, was appropriate in complexity and presented content that was both interesting and important for their professional development. Additionally, participants enjoyed that the e-Learning course had many interactive elements and that it was convenient for them to work into their schedules. These findings demonstrate the value of e-Learning for ECEs’ professional development. Participant suggestions and perspectives of the TEACH e-Learning course will be used to make improvements prior to future implementation with larger sample of pre- and in-service ECEs. Given the overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, it is clear that Canadian ECEs are in need of more professional learning and development opportunities in physical activity and sedentary behavior. As such, implementation and scale-up determinants and outcomes will need to be top of mind when expanding this training to promote reach, adoption, and sustainability of the TEACH e-Learning course.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during this current study are not publicly available due to ethical restrictions but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Notes

  1. Does not match recruitment sample due to some participants selecting the wrong ECE level during sign-up

Abbreviations

CFIR:

Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research

ECE:

Early childhood educator

LMS:

Learning management system

MVPA:

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity

TEACH:

Training pre-service EArly CHildhood educators in physical activity

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the participating pre- and in-service early childhood educators for their involvement and support of this research study, as well as Faith Heidary (research assistant) who assisted with the qualitative analyses.

Funding

This study was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant (ref #: 435-2019-1008). BAB was funded by a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship. VC holds a CIHR New Investigator Salary Award. BWT is the Canada Research Chair in Child Health and Exercise Medicine. LMV holds a Children’s Health Research Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship Award. PT holds an Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation Early Researcher Award.

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BAB and PT were responsible for the study inception. BAB was responsible for the recruitment, data collection, data analysis, and manuscript drafting/editing. KBA, SMB, VC, JDI, PJN, BWT, LMV, and PT were responsible for the manuscript editing. The authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patricia Tucker.

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Ethics approval and consent to participate

Ethical approval was provided by the Non-Medical Research Ethics Board at The University of Western Ontario (approval number 116816), and this research was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Informed consent to participate was received from all participants and was indicated by the voluntary completion of the baseline survey.

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By consenting to participate in the study, all participants consented to the publication of their aggregated data. Individuals who consented to participate in study-related interviews also consented to the publication of anonymized direct quotes from their interview transcript.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Bruijns, B.A., Vanderloo, L.M., Johnson, A.M. et al. Implementation of an e-Learning course in physical activity and sedentary behavior for pre- and in-service early childhood educators: Evaluation of the TEACH pilot study. Pilot Feasibility Stud 8, 64 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40814-022-01015-1

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Keywords

  • e-Learning
  • Physical activity
  • Sedentary behavior
  • Early childhood educators
  • Childcare
  • Implementation
  • Process evaluation