The Evolution and Vision of the New DirectCourse Curricula


DirectCourse…online curricula for life in community

A decade ago the College of Direct Support (CDS) online curriculum was a vision fast becoming reality. Its founder Bill Tapp, DirectCourse Vice President, was working with MC Strategies and the University of Minnesota’s Research and Training Center (RTC) on Community Living to develop an online curriculum to train a workforce of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) to support people with developmental disabilities living in community settings.

Today, 10 years later, that vision has morphed from original 12 core courses to 35 today, training approximately 1.5 million learners across the country. From its first statewide contract with Pennsylvania in 2004, CDS now has 12 statewide contracts and is being used in 30 states. It’s been a whirlwind ride….and the whirlwind is still evolving.

The CDS curriculum, recognized as the Gold Standard in online training in the developmental disabilities field has evolved and is a part of the expanding DirectCourse overbrand that consists of three additional online curricula housed under the Elsevier brand … DirectCourse.

  • College of Employment Services (CES), with the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston
  • College of Personal Assistance & Caregiving – developed in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco.
  • A yet-to-be-named online curriculum in the field of behavioral health and wellness being developed with Temple University.

The College of Personal Assistance & Caregiving curriculum will launch spring 2012, followed by the behavioral health curriculum in 2013. The DirectCourse curricula are developed with input from the National Advisory Board and National Board of Editors. Also, the University of Minnesota works with each partner to ensure the continuity of the product.

“As we all know, the perfect storm is upon us. We are in a huge state of transformation in our systems and the DirectCourse curricula are here to meet the expanding needs of community-based supports. From the ‘graying’ of America in all sectors and the Baby Boomers coming of age, so to speak, we are becoming increasingly aware of the inadequacy of our provider systems to support the growing populations that will need support workers to live in community as long as possible,” Tapp explained. “At some point in our lives we’ll all have a disability of some kind and will need a caregiver or support person. Based on the acceptance and use of the CDS, our development team of Elsevier and the University of Minnesota’s RTC began to explore how best to meet the ever-growing workforce challenges.”

Research told the team that its focus should be in three new areas — Employment Services, Personal Assistance & Caregiving, and Behavioral Health & Well Being.Our team envisioned that each of the new curriculums would be developed and modeled after CDS with National Advisory Boards, be supported by a National Board of Editors and meet the same academic rigor as the CDS,” Tapp explained. “These would be developed by America’s Centers of Excellence in each of these domains.”

This is an evolution of major proportions based on a vision to improve the lives of those with disabilities living in community settings, of the elderly who need caregivers and supporting those with behavioral health and wellness problems.

The DirectCourse curricula encompasses something else that makes it truly unique – each curriculum is powered and managed to our clients on Elsevier’s Performance Manager (EPM): Core Development learning management system.

“Since you are reading Connections, I would assume that your life/work may deal with supporting people with disabilities in community settings. Since we began our College of Direct Support journey10 years ago, we have seen many changes in technology,” Tapp said. “The CDS was initially going to be housed on CD ROMs. When we began, web-based, internet-supported learning was in its infancy. Our development team decided to skip the CD ROM and step out of the box and support the learning as a web-based tool.”

The CDS was initiated with the support of the Administration on Disabilities/U.S. Department of Health & Human Services as a Project of National Significance. Tapp explains that the commitment to the Administration was that the CDS would: 1. Never be finished …that we would continue to grow the learning tool; 2.It would never be the work of one author; 3. Would never be in print form but would be updated to serve as “best contemporary” practice; 4. Would be web based so additions and corrections could be timely; 5. We would work to encourage connecting the support network (families, respite providers, board members, supervisors etc.) in a common language and vision by connecting them to CDS.

Tapp has on his desk a quote from the late Apple founder Steve Jobs that he likes to share. Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect your future.”

“To grow critical community-based lifespan workforces, we must change the way we approach our work. We have all that we need to move forward if we just begin,” Tapp said. “The funding, ever growing needs and the need for evidence-based learning coupled with skills demonstration dictate that new tools be used to meet the growing expectations of those you are privileged to serve.”

Learn more about DirectCourse at our website at

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