E-initiatives needed to boost medical education

A new report has proposed the scaling up of e-initiatives in an effort to boost medical education across Africa, bridge the health workforce gap and tackle the brain drain in the world’s most health resource-limited communities.

This was outlined in a 4 February 2013 report, E-learning in Medical Education in Resource Constrained Low- and Middle-income Countries.

Besides suffering from more than 80% of the global burden of disease and death, the poorest communities of Africa, Asia and Latin America have less than 10% of the world’s trained health care workers.

To address severe faculty shortages, medical schools in resource-constrained countries are looking to e-learning to improve access to medical education, the report indicated.

However, Seble Frehywot, lead author of the report and associate professor of health policy and global health at the US-based George Washington University, told University World News: “It is important to prepare an institution, faculty and students for the adoption of e-learning, to ensure the applicability of new tools that are adopted and to fully assess the educational and economic implications."

Of all the low- and middle-income countries, Brazil, India, Egypt and South Africa have published the most on e-learning in medical education, the study pointed out.

Besides helping to widen access to education, e-learning provides supplementary tools to support lecturers in their teaching, expand the pool of faculty by connecting to partner and-or community teaching sites, and share digital resources for use by students.

E-learning in medical education takes many forms including blended learning approaches, of which computer-assisted learning comprises the major trend. Other approaches include simulations and the use of multimedia software, web-based learning, and e-Tutor and e-Mentor programmes.

The move towards using e-learning can result in greater education opportunities for students while simultaneously enhancing faculty effectiveness and efficiency, the report argued.

But e-learning assumes a certain level of institutional readiness in human and infrastructural resources, and this is not always present in low- and middle-income countries.

Other communication channels like cellphones are ideal for medical education in rural areas.

This is because although 2.6 billion people are now online compared with the less than 2% of people in 2000, two-thirds of the world population still has no internet access, according to a report for the first Global Education and Technology Health Summit held at the United Nations in New York from 6-7 February and co-hosted by Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Norway.

There are several challenges to the implementation of e-learning in medical education in resource-constrained countries through methods ranging from digital libraries to more complex distance learning networks, multimedia software, learning management systems, virtual simulations and mobile applications.

Challenges include the substantial costs of hiring skilled people to provide instructional support, the production of e-learning materials and infrastructure, and the need to tailor e-learning to meet country-specific realities, cultures and languages.

"Educators and institutions must identify appropriate e-learning tools for use in resource-constrained settings, analyse the effect of these modalities in decreasing already constrained faculty time, understand the practicality and cost-effectiveness of e-learning use in resource constrained countries, and develop financial models for the sustainability of e-learning solutions,” the report said.

"E-learning solutions do not come in a ‘one size fits all’ package that will work in all settings. In fact, the challenge when implementing e-learning is to ensure that its integration takes into consideration local context and accounts for specific instructional needs.”