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Online Learning Effective in Health Professional Education

30 August 2017 - Kate Clutton

A recent study on interprofessional learning in the BMJ has highlighted the efficacy of online learning for health professionals in primary care.  Reeves et al, in their study Interprofessional online learning for primary healthcare: findings from a scoping review, looked at online learning in primary healthcare settings and conducted an overview of global literature since 2000.

Educational Issues

A number of key educational issues were considered in the studies — including, enhancing collaboration and communication, improving time pressures, overcoming geographic boundaries, economics, costs and effectiveness, convenience, flexibility and accessibility, learner isolation and technical challenges.

Whilst each study looked at different issues and outcomes, the conclusions drawn by many of the studies were similar — e-learning can enhance an education experience, support development, ease time constraints, overcome geographic limitations and can offer greater flexibility.


The studies provide some evidence that:

  • e-learning can enhance interprofessional collaboration when used to promote interactions and relations between different professional groups
  • e-learning has the potential to facilitate complex and multifaceted collaborative practice in primary healthcare
  • the convenience of e-learning can contribute to the development of practitioners’ competence eg. They can incorporate a short online course during a busy working week with minimal disruption to clinical schedules.

Of course conclusions drawn from the evidence need to be tempered by consideration of the fact that most of the 23 studies looked at for this report gathered data from unvalidated surveys, individual interviews and focus groups and self-report.

With regard to possible drawbacks of e-learning, there was also some suggestion that practitioners may feel isolated when not in a face-to-face setting, and that technological problems can negate benefits.  Nonetheless, there were findings that some practitioners for more engaged and less constrained in online discussions as opposed to those conducted face-to-face


The case for inter professional e-learning in primary healthcare looks positive.  We were really pleased to see that e-learning offerings which employed a variety of approaches such as online self-directed learning and interactive web-based discussion supported by an e-facilitator were well evaluated when compared with studies that only employed a single form of e-learning method. That’s the way we like to approach things at Medcast.


Reeves S, Fletcher S, McLoughlin C, et al. Interprofessional online learning for primary healthcare: findings from a scoping review. 
Kate Clutton
Kate Clutton

Kate is a Director at Medcast, leading education projects and partnerships dedicated to improving healthcare through innovative education. She began her career as an Occupational Therapist and has a Masters in Public Health. Kate worked in healthcare advisory services at KPMG, where she delivered evaluation, clinical redesign, and change-management services to government and NGOs.

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