As the demand for accessible education exponentially increases, the traditional mode of learning has now become a stepping stone for a more accessible method of learning. Educators have had to adopt radical changes in their delivery of knowledge and use of learning tools as a substitute for the traditional face to face classroom.

In the 21st century, medical students are expected to hit the ground running, needing not only traditional clinical education but also one that is at par with the latest technologies to maintain flexibility in the workplace. Resources such as distance learning have been instrumental in imparting medical education through methods such as e-learning, m-learning, and blended learning.

Resource management tools typically found in internet applications and carefully planned organization of work have streamlined these learning formats. E-learning has enabled medical students to have greater control over their learning by introducing flexibility over pace and content. Electronic learning platforms have enabled educators to objectively evaluate competencies through online assessments enabling medical students to receive personalized feedback that fosters self-improvement. The transition to e-learning has been a catalyst for adult learning theory, which has redefined the role of medical educators to facilitators and assessors of competency.   

How has E-learning changed learning delivery for medical educators?

E-learning has also revolutionized learning delivery in the medical education department. Here's how:

  • Increasing accessibility to information: Medical students can easily find the materials they need when they need them. Digital content is easy to share and can be used simultaneously by multiple learners.
  • Created ease in updating content: Electronic content is easier to update compared to printed material. Educators can also easily revise content.
  • Introduced standardization of content: Through e-learning technologies, educators can now make content uniform and consistent for learners.
  • Reinforced accountability: Medical students have control over the content, pace of learning, learning sequence, time, and the media through which they can tailor their experiences to personalize their learning objectives.

Despite its efficiency and convenience, most medical students do not see e-learning replacing traditional learning methods. E-learning, however, is a complement to an instructor led technique in a blended approach. For medical and nursing students, a blended approach has been observed to yield higher satisfaction compared to a purely traditional lecture setting.

As a learning enhancement, e-learning has promoted learner efficiency, learner interactivity, cognitive effectiveness, motivation, and flexibility in learning style. A well-designed e-learning platform allows learners to be more active participants and engage better with content. E-learners have shown an improved retention rate and increased use of content that has resulted in the achievement of greater skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

This interactive learning technique and platform shift the focus from a teacher-centered model to a learner-centered model, thereby providing a robust learning stimulus. Automated learners' activities, such as tracking and reporting, also lessen the administrative burden.   

E-learning Medical approaches

Online medical education tools provide educators and students the advantage of utilizing different types of learning techniques. Some of these techniques include:

1. The 'flipped classroom' approach

This approach allows students to access learning material in advance and come to class for an in-depth understanding using questions and interactive discussions. The flipped classroom approach enables educators to disseminate material and address any gaps in knowledge, and the student gets to learn at their own pace.

2. Problem-based learning

The problem-based learning approach promotes learning through problem solving. It functions on the simple basis of the educator posing a question at the beginning of the semester or class. As the course progresses, students learn various concepts and techniques that help them answer the question correctly. It is a good reminder of the USMLE exams that they will face. The questions help students understand what they are working towards, and the educators can gear their syllabus towards assisting students in attaining and understanding the right answers.

3. Simulation

Medical simulations are an excellent way for students to improve their clinical skills and get hands-on practice. Learning how to interact with and examine patients is a crucial part of medical education that simulation addresses. Patient encounters are a big part of the USMLE prep course that is later tested in the USMLE Step 2 CS exam. Some online platforms have significantly advanced to offering their students the opportunity to interact with virtual patients to improve their competency in this area. This provides an advanced level of e-learning where real patients aren't put at risk.

4. Self-directed learning

In this approach, students are entirely independent. They determine what they need to study or review, make a plan, and work on it. This technique fosters design thinking, which is crucial in medical education. Students learn how to think critically and adapt to their profession. These teaching and learning methods are just a few examples of what the e-learning platform fosters. A mix of these techniques creates a wholesome way for medical educators to enhance students' learning experiences and prepare them adequately for the workforce.   

Availability of E-learning resources

Due to the growth of educational technologies and the internet, the availability of e-learning resources has dramatically increased. Infrastructure has been developed to support e-learning within medical education. Despite being few, repositories have provided expanded access to high quality, sharable e-learning material such as the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC's). Other useful online resources include:

  • Palliative Education Resource Center/The End of Life - This is a free access repository of digital material for health professionals
  • The Health Education Assets Library (HEAL) - Provides access to high-quality digital material for medical students and encourages the preservation and exchange of useful educational material.
  • The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT)

How do Medical educators uphold the quality of e-learning?

Medical educators enhance the quality of their e-learning courses through:

  • Learner-centered content: Educators ensure the curriculum is relevant and customized to suit learners' needs, responsibilities, and roles in the medical profession. All the knowledge, skills, and information provided is geared towards their professional life.
  • Granularity: E-learning content and materials are segmented to promote the assimilation of new knowledge and factor in flexible scheduling for learners.
  • Engaging content: Using creative instructional techniques and methods to develop a motivating and engaging learning experience.
  • Interactive: Constant learner interaction facilitates attention retention and promotes learning.
  • Personalization: Medical courses should be tailored to reflect learner's interests and needs. Educators and facilitators should also be able to track individual learner's progress and performance.

In a nutshell, medical educators are encouraged to keep engaging in e-learning in a bid to facilitate the creation and to introduce innovative approaches to impart knowledge to medical students.