May 5, 2014
Recent technological advances have created a variety of opportunities for online medical education. While modernized schooling methods continue to gain steam, let’s dig deeper into the reasons why digital learning has been so effective, and why we believe the use of online medical education will continue to grow. Before we begin, it is important to note that this is an enormous topic that cannot be captured within a single post. For this reason, I am splitting this into a two part series. Part One will cover the improvements made in online education in recent years, and the changes they have brought upon medical education.
The meteoric rise of online education has taken the world by storm in recent years. Educators everywhere are adapting their methods to take advantage of digital learning possibilities. According to a 10-year study tracking changes in online education in the United States conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, “In 2002, less than one-half of all higher education institutions reported online education was critical to their long-term strategy. That number is now close to seventy percent.” Lately, the healthcare industry has also migrated towards online education. Hospitals, medical schools, and continuing education providers now offer entirely online courses. These recent trends and the benefits available from utilizing these education alternatives indicate online medical education is here to stay.
Before digging into specifics, let’s highlight three general features that make online medical education so appealing to healthcare professionals and educators.
Perhaps the preeminent attribute of online medical education is the available convenience. Learning online offers a level of freedom and practicality we all desire. You learn where you want and when you want. Many traditional courses force you to plan your life around a particular course, but with online education, it’s the other way around.
In almost all cases, the cost of an online course will be substantially less than its in-person counterpart – especially considering medical school tuition and other medical education costs have skyrocketed. Additional accompanying factors such as transportation, parking, housing, and other underlying costs are also eliminated with online education. Furthermore, the cost of technology continues to drop, creating much easier access to the necessary resources for online classes.
Everyone has a specific learning style that works best for him or her. Unfortunately, the traditional ‘professor lectures and the student listens’ method is only equipped to meet the needs of one learning style, which may hinder the development of many students not in this category. The flexibility of online education combats this problem by allowing you to conform your courses to your preferred learning style. Whichever learning style you prefer – whether it be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic; slow or fast-paced; outgoing or reserved – online education allows you to absorb new knowledge in a manner you’re most comfortable with.
These three fundamental elements of digital learning are just a few primary factors behind the growing popularity of online medical education. Technology isn’t moving backwards – and even if advances in technology stall for some unforeseen reason, online medical education is already convenient, affordable, and flexible enough to remain more than relevant in the healthcare industry. The more probable, if not inevitable scenario is that we will continue to make tremendous strides with technology that will open even more doors to improve digital learning methods. We need only to walk through those doors and embrace the potential online medical education.
Our overall medical intelligence has become increasingly sophisticated over the years. Therefore, it’s time our methods of teaching this knowledge match that level of sophistication. The New England Journal of Medicine published an article titled “Lecture Halls without Lectures – A Proposal for Medical Education,” written by Charles G. Prober, M.D., and Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education at the Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Prober’s article begins with this statement:
“The last substantive reform in medical student education followed the Flexner Report, which was written in 1910. In the ensuing 100 years, the volume of medical knowledge has exploded, the complexity of the health care system has grown, pedagogical methods have evolved, and unprecedented opportunities for technological support have become available. Yet students are being taught roughly the same way they were taught when the Wright brothers were tinkering at Kitty Hawk. It’s time we change the way we educate doctors.”
Most people agree that online learning should play a role in the future of medical education. Opinions begin to diverge once the extent of online learning’s role is called into question. Online medical education still lacks the universal credibility needed to suggest that it will completely push traditional methods aside anytime soon. Many believe that technology should be used minimally and only to enhance traditional methods of learning. One trend that has been gaining traction among medical schools is providing students with iPads to use for taking notes during lectures. Many instructors are also recording their lectures and posting them online for students to re-watch. Several medical schools are making a commendable effort to support mobile learning. Yet, even after an abundance of successful endeavors to incorporate technology in education, many educators hesitate to turn to entirely online instruction. The main argument behind this belief is that the “student and computer” nature of online medical education simply lacks two key elements that traditional methods provide – communication with others and hands-on experience.
Fortunately, the validity of that argument is rapidly dwindling. New discoveries are constantly creating more opportunities to develop cutting-edge technology. These innovative resources are constantly bridging those gaps and minimizing the limitations of online medical education. In just the last 10 years, we’ve been introduced to live chat platforms such as Skype and Google Hangouts that allow learners to digitally communicate with each other face-to-face in real-time. Thousands of mobile apps have been created that provide diagrams, videos, and other functions that simulate real-life scenarios. Smartphones now give you the ability to obtain, store, and share information all in the palm of your hand. If all of this has happened in just the last 10 years – imagine where we’ll be 10 years from now. At the current rate, technology is progressing, it’s only a matter of time until new developments push these resources aside and offer even more unprecedented options for online medical education. There is an overwhelming supply of evidence to support the fact that implementing technology in education is remarkably beneficial and should continue to be. Even the results of a U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis titled 'Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning' directly states, “The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
The reality is that online medical education should and will revolutionize the way we teach healthcare professionals. Those who disagree are merely oblivious to the power and potential of technology.
Check back next week for Part II of Why Online Medical Education Is Here To Stay, where I’ll be discussing what online medical education can learn from an in-depth analysis of the Khan Academy’s success with MOOC’s (massive open online courses).