NADD U.S. Policy Update (from the NADD Bulletin Volume X Number 2)

Complete listing

The College of Direct Support

Abstract of Presentation by Sheryl Larson, Ph.D., and K. Charlie Lakin, Ph.D., Research and Training Center on Community Living, University of Minnesota

The College of Direct Support (CDS) is the product of a commitment of the Research and Training Center on Community Living/University of Minnesota and Elsevier/MC Strategies of Atlanta to build and sustain a state-of-the art, competency-based, nationally valid, multi-media, web-based training program for direct support professionals (DSPs) who support individuals with disabilities. The initial courses of the CDS were created as “Project of National Significance,” funded by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, with an understanding that with the initial 6 courses completed, CDS would be sustained and expanded through user fees. 

The commitment to provide seed funding for CDS came in response to concerns about access to the high quality training needed by DSPs, especially in light of their increasing responsibilities as they work in smaller, more dispersed settings, more often support persons with complex needs, and less often work with on-site supervision and/or access to specialized professional support.  Additionally, as the complexity and autonomy of direct support has increased, the dispersion of the workforce and the increased employment of persons who work part-time and odd-hour schedules have made traditional training less accessible.  Specific standards and features were built into the design of CDS to respond to these challenges and to provide high quality of training to meet the growing demands for DSPs to possess the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to provide high quality support.  Twelve primary features of CDS include: 1) guidance from a National Advisory Committee made up of representatives of major national organizations and CDS users; 2) content based on the specific competencies required of DSPs as determined through systematic job analyses; 3) content based on values of respect, self-determination and ethical behavior as conveyed in the CDS Core Values and the Code of Ethics of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (CDS content is cross-referenced to the latter);  4) content guided, reviewed and revised based on focus groups before course outlines are developed and critical review of course outlines and draft course content by national experts on the CDS National Board of Editors; 5) fail-safe instructional delivery 24-hours a day, 365 days a year in all communities in which DSPs live and work; 6) a field-tested platform and course functionalities; 7) permanent retrievable records of all completed training, testing and rated job performance, transportable from agency to agency and state to state; 8) a learner management system that allows lessons and courses to assigned a local training director to respond to individual and agency needs;  9) an annotation system to permit core content to be easily supplemented with agency and/or state specific information; 10) a program that is easily and appropriately articulated into post-secondary degree and certificate programs; 11) an annual review and as needed revision of existing courses based on reviews of learners, staff and editors; and 12) a “Human Resources Tools” package that permits organizations at state, agency or program site levels to assess the quality of DSP and supervisor work experiences (e.g., staff satisfaction, new hire and existing staff surveys and others). 

In addition to reviews by experts on the Board of Editors, CDS learners can be surveyed about the quality of their training experience using a survey that is part of the HR Tools package.  The largest external survey of this type was a pilot-program conducted in Virginia prior to its statewide adoption of the College of Direct Support.  Among the findings of that study was that in 94% of 735 separate course reviews, DSPs “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that, “Overall, this is an excellent course.” 

CDS has 19 courses for DSPs with 84 lessons.  Lessons average about 45 minutes of direct instruction per learner, but vary in completion time because learners progress at their own pace.  There are also 5 courses (21 lessons) in the CDS’s “College of Frontline Supervision and Management.”  CDS courses of particular professional interest to NADD members may be Positive Behavior Supports and Functional Assessment.  However, the other CDS courses are also essential components of providing supports to persons with or without dual diagnoses.  Their topics include:  safety in home and community; prevention and reporting of maltreatment; supporting healthy lives; individual rights and choices; medication administration and support; documentation; supporting social connections with family and friends; person-centered planning and support; direct support professionalism; introduction to developmental disabilities; effective teaching; communication supports; cultural competence; personal care and self-care; and employment supports. 

CDS became available in September 2003.  By January 2007, CDS had 44,600 enrolled learners.   Between July 2006 and January 2007 CDS grew by an average about 2,000 learners and 20,000 completed lessons each month. 

To promote a quality workforce, policy planners should consider the use of various methods for flexible learning like the CDS to enhance training opportunities for direct support staff.

For further information about the presentation, please contact:  

Sheryl A. Larson, PhD., Research Director

Research and Training Center on Community Living

214B Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE

Minneapolis, MN  55455 

Tel: 612-624-6024;   E-mail:

Additional information about the College of Direct Support can be found on the CDS website: or by calling the CDS toll-free number:  1-877-353-2767.

The “U.S. Public Policy Update” is an ongoing column in the NADD Bulletin.  We welcome your comments, as well as, submissions for this column.  To learn more or to contribute to this column, you may contact Joan Beasley, Editor of the U.S. Public Update and Chairperson of the U.S. Public Policy Committee, at