Electronic learning could enable millions more students to train as nurses and doctors across the world, according to research carried out for the World Health Organization.
A review commissioned by the WHO and carried out by Imperial College London concluded that “e-learning” is likely to be as effective as traditional methods for training health professionals.
“E-learning programmes could potentially help address the shortage of healthcare workers by enabling greater access to education, especially in the developing world”
The use of electronic media and devices in education is already used by some universities to support traditional campus-based teaching or to enable distance learning.
Its wider use globally might help to address the need to train more health workers, according to the WHO’s report – E-learning for undergraduate health professional education – which is published today.
The Imperial 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.
They also conducted separate analysis comparing e-learning done online and requiring an internet connection, with offline e-learning, which might be delivered using CD-ROMs or USB sticks.
The findings, drawn from a total of 108 studies, showed that students acquired knowledge and skills through online and offline e-learning as well as, or better than they do, through traditional teaching.
The authors suggest that a combination of e-learning with traditional teaching might be most suitable for healthcare training, because of the need to acquire practical skills.
Dr Josip Car, from the school of public health at Imperial, said e-learning programmes could “potentially help address” the global shortage of clinicians, especially in the developing world.
“There are still barriers that need to be overcome, such as access to computers, internet connections, and learning resources,” he said.
“Universities should encourage the development of e-learning curricula and use online resources to reach out to students internationally,” he added.