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eLearning Learning
June 1, 2022

Using eLearning to Educate People Impacted by HIV/AIDS

Educating the public requires an integrated approach to engage and inform so that’s why POZ Magazine leveraged online assessment tools and eLearning courses to educate people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Ian Anderson, president of Smart + Strong, and Oriol Gutierrez, editorial director for Smart + Strong and editor-in-chief for POZ Magazine join us with more. 


Show Notes:

Ian Anderson and Oriol Gutierrez from POZ Magazine use eLearning as one way to reach the public. They offer tips about their ongoing journey to educate a global audience.

  •  Providing eLearning modules and self-assessment tools was a logical next step to engage and educate the public.
  • eLearning created another avenue to complement the website, magazine and other educational resources by providing learning on demand.
  • Using relatable images in the eLearning modules helps make complex subject matter more understandable. 

Learn more about POZ Magazine 

Read about d’Vinci’s work for POZ 

Discover more about Unlocking Life’s Code, the educational website mentioned at the end of the podcast. 

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.


Susan: [00:00:00] This is Powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.

Speaker 1: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at

Susan: Hello, and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. Today, I'm joined by d'Vinci president, Mason Scuderi, and our guest, Ian Anderson, president of Smart and Strong, and Oriol Gutierrez, editorial director for Smart and Strong, and editor-in-chief for POZ magazine, a national award-winning magazine and website for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.


POZ Magazine and reach more than 70% of all people living in the United States who are aware that they are HIV positive. The magazine and the website are also read by people who wish to know more about the disease, people who are considering getting tested for the disease, and many healthcare providers. Today, we're going to talk about one of the ways POZ engages their target audience through online assessment tools and eLearning courses. Welcome, Ian and Oriol.

Mason: Thanks for joining us.

Ian: I'm looking forward to our conversation.

Oriol: Good to be here.

Susan: Ian, let's start off by giving us a little bit of an overview of Smart and Strong and one of your brands, POZ.

Ian: Smart and Strong was created a little over 27 years ago as a health-focused media brand that started with POZ, our biggest and oldest brand for people living with HIV. At the time, living with HIV and AIDS was thought of as a death sentence. [00:02:00] Sean Strub, our founder felt that he needed to change the dialogue. He created a glossy magazine, and he made it about living with HIV. He put people out camping going to the beach. Again, it was truth-telling as well. It was not only showing people living with the disease, but it was also explaining the treatment options and how to care for each other. That mantra has really carried through everything that we've done since and all of our other brands as well.

Susan: You think about the shift in thinking from people early on probably focusing on dying from AIDS, but your magazine helped people understand how to live with AIDS, or you'll talk a little bit about that and the many ways in which and POZ magazine has impacted so many lives over almost 28 years.

Oriol: I was one of them. I was a reader before I ever dreamed of becoming part of the staff. I tested positive with HIV in 1992. [00:03:02] I was 22 years old. I thought I'd be dead by the age of 30. That's a pretty typical story from people of my era. I stumbled onto the magazine at a clinic at about maybe two or three issues after I actually saw the magazine launch. It was a pretty amazing thing literally to see hope. I've been a fan ever since, so the idea that I sit in this chair. Sometimes, I pinch myself. It's a pretty extraordinary journey.

Mason: Thanks for that background, Ian and Oriol. We're very proud to partner with you in the creation of eLearning and the assessment tools that you use at POZ. For our listeners, a little bit of background, the project was funded by the National Library of Medicine and its ongoing AIDS community outreach program. In partnership with POZ and Smart and Strong, d'Vinci created eight eLearning modules to help people concerned about HIV/AIDS self-assess the risk [00:04:00] and determine if they need to seek medical help. What was the motivation for expanding the digital magazine to include eLearning modules, Ian?

Ian: Over our 27 years, we've always prided ourselves on bringing information to people wherever they might need it, and in whatever format we could to make it digestible and understandable to the community. In the beginning, it was a print. Then, we moved to the online, We moved into social media. I was part of our first MySpace website if anybody remembers MySpace back in the day. We continued to evolve, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, et cetera.

For us, it's always been about trying to find new tools, new ways to help people understand what can be very complicated information. HIV, fortunately, it has gotten a little bit easier over the years. It used to be you'd have all kinds of pill combinations and trying to keep it all straight was very difficult. [00:05:00] Now, there still are lots of different options and opportunities if someone's living with HIV.

We were looking for a way to continue to expand that, find a new way to help people understand these different things, assessment of risk, figure out what treatment should you start with, learn about aging with HIV, which is a whole another topic that we covered in an eLearning module. We were fortunate enough to partner with d'Vinci and get this grant for the first round of modules. It's a great new way to educate and bring information to our audience, someone who may not be comfortable with the words. It's a long sentences, long paragraphs. It's just all words. This has pictures. It has people. It has personal stories in it and has a really nice easy-to-use function.

Mason: That's great and showing some of the benefits and strengths of an eLearning [00:06:00] module. Oriol, with years of experience as an editor and writer, and knowing how to connect with your readers, how did you translate that understanding into creating impactful eLearning?

Oriol: Being said, a lot of the touchstones that are in these modules are pretty great as far as people who need to learn differently or quite frankly, just anybody [chuckles]. Reading straight words, as Ian put it, can be daunting to digest difficult topics. We talk about reaching our audience by not only educating but entertaining. I think that sometimes raises an eyebrow with people because they don't really think of learning as something that should be fun. It should be dry and boring, and that's just not my philosophy, certainly. I don't think it's ours as a company.

It's a lot more effective when you can engage people where they are and perhaps where they aspire to be. [00:07:00] Pretty pictures and happy people go a long way toward making topics that could be scary or seemingly unapproachable that much more approachable, but it's not just the visuals. It's also the way that things are written, the way that things are presented. They make a big difference.

Mason: That's really great. At d'Vinci, we're always interested in addition to our clients being interested and measuring the learning outcomes that come from the experiences that we create, with POZ, how do you measure the engagement with these eLearning modules that are housed within the POZ website?

Ian: POZ has always engaged our audience with whatever types of tools and learning products that we provide. It was a very easy and seamless process to introduce these modules and do the same. We have the traditional Google analytics on the modules, so we can track how many people have [00:08:00] viewed each page of the module, how long they're spending with the module.

We also end with a survey. We have been surveying our audience from the beginning. They're very comfortable telling us what they think in very plain language to put it politely. [crosstalk] We have a survey at the end of these and the feedback on them has been amazing. People have really enjoyed them, appreciate the learning. We also link people within the modules to more information that's something else POZ has always done. Whether you are online or in print, or you see one of our posters up at an ASO, an AIDS Service Organization office around the country, we link you back to the community.

If you want to talk more about aging with HIV, you can go to the POZ forums and get more information. The engagement and making it fun and interesting, as Oriol said, is something that has always been part of our learning. [00:09:00] It's funny. As Oriol said, we make it fun. You're not really necessarily realizing you're learning, but at the end of the day, you've got a lot more knowledge on the topic.

Mason: Oh, that's so great to hear that the learning modules have been well received.

Susan: Do you find, Ian, when you're doing these surveys, are you ever getting ideas from people who've taken some of the learning for new ideas for content or ways to improve it? Are you learning from the learners?

Ian: I think Oriol might be better to answer that because he's the one who gets the poll results and the survey results and turns them into all kinds of projects.

Oriol: The short answer is, absolutely. [laughs] Our audience teaches us as much as we dare to teach them. It's a very interesting dynamic in the HIV community anyway where folks especially who have been living with the virus for a long time, so we've called them long-term survivors. They had to learn things from scratch. I barely qualify although I've been living with the virus for about 30 years [00:10:00] as a long-term survivor by some other standards, and they thought they'd be gone a long time ago.

The way they survived was actually to start reading POZ magazine [chuckles] and other magazines like it and tear out pages from the treatment section and run to their doctor and say, "Have you ever heard about this?" Most of the time they'd say, "I never heard that before." They became the experts, way before the medical establishment did. Actually, we are very humbled to get their feedback, and as Ian said oftentimes very colorfully [laughs] but they teach us just as much as we teach them.

Mason: It's great to hear that the e-learning modules are being well received by your audience. Often, organizations try to educate the public with one-way learning or just a basic information dump, but not many are willing to go to the length to create e-learning and assessment tools. Why do you think it's so important for POZ, and what advice could you give to others trying to affect change?


Ian: POZ, as I think I said earlier in the podcast, we've always prided ourselves on trying to bring the information to wherever people are engaging with it. A good example was there's a social media site called Tumblr. High schoolers were using it to learn about HIV maybe 10 years ago. One of our junior staff brought it to us and say, "Hey, I'm seeing this conversation going," so we created a Tumblr page. Our junior staffers started to engage people in that space. That's something that has been part of our organization from the beginning.

We're also very fortunate that we have really engaged editors. When someone comes to our Facebook page and asks a question, we have an editor there to respond to it. We also have forums where there's 24/7 monitoring from around the world. If somebody comes on there and has a problem or an issue, we can answer the question there very quickly. Bringing it back to the e-learning modules, it's just another component of what we [00:12:00] do. We're trying to get people to ask questions. We're trying to basically empower them to go forward whether it's to their doctor or to their place of work and be empowered to discuss HIV and what they need or what they want.

The advice is really just to engage people wherever you might find them looking for your information. Again, HIV, it started in print and moved to digital, and moved to social media and now, we've got these great e-learning tools that walk people through scenarios so that they can learn and figure out what's best for them in whatever situation they find themselves. Again, I want to stress the importance of the editors being involved. Oriol's here, so I'll let him speak to that directly but having an editorial team so engaged is a huge benefit for what we do and strongly recommend any organization do that, have the editors on the forefront talking directly to the community.


Oriol: Yes, I couldn't agree more. There's a certain way of doing things that certainly a lot of publishing companies but I would say all companies follow, and it's a top-down model. For at least our editorial team, we try to have a different approach and empower everyone to have a certain level of responsibility and engagement. That just proves to be effective for us.

Mason: Oh, that's some really great feedback. No matter what content we're creating, there's nothing better than knowing that that content is reaching your audience and then receiving some feedback from your audience. Thank you both for sharing. Before you leave us, Ian and Oriol, talk a little bit about what's next for POZ.

Ian: We are keeping our eyes open for what the community needs next in whatever format it might come. One thing we are actively working on is evolving our video content. We've been creating videos for years, whether it's sharing video from community events or [00:14:00] people telling their stories, but we think there is more we can do with the platform. For instance, we offer a wide variety of tips for the community whether it's eating healthy or ways to reduce your stress.

One specific tips list that we have been working around and updating is around PrEP. PrEP, just as background, it stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and it's an HIV prevention tool. If you are not living with HIV, it reduces the risk of transmission if you're exposed to HIV. There's actually a new injectable option that goes along with the pills that have been around for years. People have a lot of questions - the pros, the cons, the pills versus shot. We already do present them in a bunch of different ways but I think that video is an important option to add into that mix. We're talking to a couple of different vendors about ways to make that happen. That's my big priority at the moment. Oriol, do you have any thoughts on your side?


Oriol: Sure. We are still living through the COVID era and probably will for some time. There are a lot of connections between COVID and HIV as far as the science goes. There's a lot of interesting connections there and certainly, editorially we'll be following those.

Susan: Anything new on the learning horizon, Oriol, that you can see doing to educate your readers?

Oriol: Besides video, I am actually looking forward to doing some more modules. I do think they're fun. They are engaging in a way that I find to be unique so I look forward to doing more of those. Apart from that, I look forward to hearing from our audience. I'm sure they'll have some opinions about what they want.

Mason: Our audience is keeping us on the cutting edge. That's for sure.

Susan: Thank you both for taking the time to talk with Mason and me today. It was really interesting to hear about your journey with POZ over the last 27-plus years. We're excited to play a very small part in helping to educate [00:16:00] your audience and look forward to hearing what's next, so thank you.

Mason: Thanks for having us.

Oriol: Thank you.

Mason: Thank you both.

Susan: It's so inspirational to hear how e-learning has played a part in actually shaping the lives of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. What are some of your key takeaways from our conversation with Ian and Oriol?

Mason: Susan, that was an impactful conversation. Ian and Oriol's shared some great insights with us about how to educate the public on health-related content. I really liked the importance of using relatable characters, scenarios in writing to engage and entertain your audience. Also, using a variety of different formats like eLearning modules, websites, forums, and anywhere that your audience is, finding a way to reach them.

Susan: Well put. Anything new at d'Vinci that you'd like to share?

Mason: d'Vinci recently redesigned and upgraded an educational website for the National Human Genome Research Institute. The NHGRI is one of 27 institutes [00:17:00] at the National Institutes of Health. Unlocking Life's Code was originally an educational website launched in 2013 as a part of the collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, and what they were doing there is in launching that website was celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the decoding of the human genome. Recently d'Vinci redesigned and redeveloped Unlocking Life's Code.

We used our learning-focused UI, UX process to organize information based on user personas. We upgraded the website from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9. We organized a variety of online educational resources, learning modules, videos, 3D animations, PDFs into a searchable resource library. Finally, we translated the website and educational materials into Spanish in order to reach a wider range of learners.

Susan: That sounds great Mason, I'll definitely have to put a link to that in the show notes of this podcast. Thanks, Mason. Many [00:18:00] thanks to Ian Anderson and Oriol Gutierrez for joining us today. If you have any questions about what we talked about, you can reach out to us on d'Vinci social channels through our website or by emailing us at

Speaker 1: Powered by learning is brought to you by d'Vinci interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at


Mason Scuderi

By Mason Scuderi, President

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