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Electronic learning could enable millions more students to train as doctors and nurses worldwide

Electronic learning could enable millions more students to train as doctors and nurses worldwide, according to research carried out by the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College London.

A review commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) and carried out by Imperial College London researchers 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. 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 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 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 Department of Primary Care and Public Health in 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."

The full text of the review can be viewed online.

News items on the report were published in the Nursing Times and in the Examiner as well as by Reuters.

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