Health workforce

e Learning as good as traditional training for health professionals: where is the evidence?

Electronic learning could enable millions more students to train as doctors and nurses worldwide, according to research.

A new systematic review of the literature commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and carried out by Imperial College London researchers aiming at establishing the evidence-base for eLearning concludes that eLearning is likely to be as effective as traditional methods for training health professionals.

eLearning, the use of electronic media and devices in education, is already used by some universities to support traditional campus-based teaching or enable distance learning. “There is also a need for the provision of guidance on what methods are most suitable and effective for different pedagogical approaches, in the light of ever increasing demands and pressures faced by low and middle income countries to use technology to improve for health workforce education and training, said WHO’s Dr Wheeler and Dr Shorbaji, Editors of the report.

Wider use of eLearning might help to address the need to train more health workers across the globe. According to a recent WHO report, the world is short of 7.2 million healthcare professionals, and the figure is growing.

The Imperial College team, led by Dr Josip Car, carried out a systematic review of the scientific literature to evaluate the effectiveness of eLearning for undergraduate health professional education. This report was commissioned by WHO to ensure that there is robust evidence to support the increase in the numbers of health workers being trained.

They conducted separate analyses looking at online learning, requiring an internet connection, and offline learning, delivered using CD-ROMs or USB sticks, for example.

The findings, drawn from a total of 108 studies, showed that students acquire knowledge and skills through online and offline eLearning as well as or better than they do through traditional teaching.

The authors suggest that combining eLearning with traditional teaching might be more suitable for healthcare training than courses that rely fully on eLearning because of the need to acquire practical skills.

Dr Josip Car, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London said: "eLearning programmes could potentially help address the shortage of healthcare workers by enabling greater access to education; especially in the developing world the need for more health professionals is greatest. "There are still barriers that need to be overcome, such as access to computers, internet connections, and learning resources, and this could be helped by facilitating investments in ICT. Universities should encourage the development of eLearning curricula and use online resources to reach out to students internationally."