An educational portal that is cost-effective, accessible and focuses on stand-alone learning modules is what BMJ Learning aims to perfect for its users, writes Kieran Walsh

Dr Kieran Walsh

Kieran Walsh

Dr Kieran Walsh

E-learning for healthcare professionals has now been around for nearly 20 years. Virtual simulations, mandatory online training and just in time resources have become commonplace in our institutions.

There is now an enormous volume of e-learning on the web and healthcare professionals are spending more and more time learning online. However quantity does not always equal quality and hours spent online do not always result in outcomes that are important for learners, institutions and patients.

One particular pain point is in the area of online mandatory training. Learners regularly complain about being forced to work through poor quality online resources that are not related to their learning needs and that are little better than text on the web.

There is now an enormous volume of e-learning on the web and healthcare professionals are spending more and more time learning online

And worse, they have to wade through the same resources year after year. They rightly complain that these resources are more about institutions wanting to “tick the box” of making their workforce compliant with health and safety training than they are about genuine education that will help healthcare professionals help their patients.

There are better ways of providing e-learning that will help institutions, professionals and patients.

Mapping the process

The first step is in identifying the needs of all these stakeholders. Patients ultimately want safe and effective care – so resources on topics such as safer prescribing will likely be able to help.

Institutions will want to ensure that they improve care in topics that are particular areas of need – perhaps in the management of sepsis or falls or postoperative care. And healthcare professionals will usually want to do clinical resources that might help them fulfil a curriculum or gain continuing professional development points.

They will also expect the best that the web can offer – interactive, multimedia resources that will work on any device – from desktop computer to tablet. They also like the convenience of resources they can dip in and out of and fit around their working day.

With face to face events, it’s not just the travel expense but also time spent away from the hospital that can pose a challenge.

The next step is finding commonalities between all these different drivers. This might seem ambitious but it is not insurmountable.

The needs of patients should trump all others – so modules that drive patient safety should be an early priority. But this priority should overlap with the needs of most institutions – which might be falls or pressure ulcer prevention.

Then it is a matter of mapping these resources to curricula that are relevant to healthcare professionals. The foundation programme curriculum for junior doctors is a good example.

If it is worth investing in e-learning, then it is worth investing in a content set that will meet a range of needs or fulfil a significant part of a curriculum

It outlines what all doctors must learn within the first two years of qualification and also how they should do this. It contains a mix of clinical and non-clinical topics - from managing the acutely ill patient to safe prescribing.

The step after that is deciding whether to build or buy. Creating your own content will mean that your own needs will definitely be met but this option can be slow and expensive.

It can also be a challenge in keeping “home grown” resources updated in the light of new evidence or guidelines. By contrast licensing in content will be faster - even though it might not meet all your needs precisely.

How to trade off these options is ultimately down to the plans and the budget of your institution. However there are methods to ensure that your investment in e-learning will be cost effective – whatever form it takes.

The next step is implementing these methods that will ensure value and save costs:

First of all, one of the main advantages of e-learning is that it saves on the costs associated with face to face education, including classrooms, equipment and print costs, the costs of travel, accommodation and subsistence.

If you are providing e-learning, then think about what elements of face to face education that you will no longer need; how to blend the e-learning with the face to face instruction – because you will always need some element of face to face education.

Secondly think about how you will promote and enable usage. A key factor in the cost effectiveness of e-learning is its scalability – but this will only happen if you successfully drive usage.

Thirdly think in terms of packages of content instead of single, stand-alone online learning modules. If it is worth investing in e-learning, then it is worth investing in a content set that will meet a range of needs or fulfil a significant part of a curriculum.

At BMJ Learning these methods will deliver results and save costs.

The final step is to continually evaluate the e-learning and track the learners’ progress. This is essential if you want to know what outcomes have been achieved by your programme.

You can get reports from an external site that hosts the content, or import content to be hosted on your own Learning Management System. At BMJ a growing number of institutions are interested in content that is compliant with their own systems and can be imported into these systems.

This last step can give institutions the options that they need to leverage e-learning and continuing professional development to help achieve their goals.

Dr. Kieran Walsh is clinical director of BMJ Learning – the online learning service of the BMJ.