How Reliable are Online Educational Resources?

March 25, 2018 By Zoe Hughes

Evidence-based practice is at the heart of everything you do as a health professional. Planning, developing and providing continuing professional development (CPD) through educational interventions is one way of ensuring that the skills of your staff are not only kept up to date, but also based on the latest research findings.

It’s evident from the growing trend of online-based CPD providers, of which Ausmed is an example, that there is a shift to learning via webinars, videos, podcasts and blogs.

This is reflected in the trend amongst nurse educators who are increasingly using eLearning as a popular teaching method. Many educators will also use online resources to complement and bolster in-service education sessions.

Online Educational Resources

Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

However, there is a potential pitfall with this online-based learning – credibility and reliability.

The difficulty lies with the fact that anyone can create a webpage within minutes. There are often no editorial boards to check standards and assure high quality – the information presented in what appears to be an objective way is often pure opinion or conjecture. This is particularly the case when the information presented comes from a sole author.

Whereas there are tools and systems in place to help you appraise and evaluate literature, none have been developed for the online educational resources so far. Not only does this mean that worthwhile online material is being ignored because the reader cannot determine credibility, chances are that poorly researched articles and papers are being referenced.

This has to be a concern for nurse educators, who must ensure that evidence-based practice is at the forefront of what they do.

If You Can’t Assess the Quality of a Resource, Should You Use it in Your Education Program?

It is essential to critically appraise the information you come across online and determine the quality before including it in your education/training program.

So, how can you appraise these sources and judge them as reliable enough to inform practice?

This was a question the team behind the ‘METRIQ study’ asked as they aimed to ‘derive a quality evaluation instrument for this purpose’ (Chan et al. 2016). They felt that just as critical appraisal of primary literature is essential for a robust medical education, so too is the need to evaluate secondary materials such as online sources.

The METRIQ research team used a three-phase method to create two quality evaluation tools for online educational resources: METRIQ-8 and METRIQ-5.

Related: Evaluating the Impact of Your Organisation’s Education

They found that these scoring systems gained comparable results to traditional gestalt evaluation methods. However, further research into these systems are necessary before they can be used by nurse educators to evaluate their research sources.

So, what can be learned from this study now?

Online Educational Resources

There is a Definite Need for Nurse Educators to be Able to Appraise Sources Appropriately

It is important that nurse educators evaluate online resources before including it in an education/training program or session.

There are some helpful questions you can ask yourself as you evaluate an online resource:

  • Who owns the site and what is the purpose?
  • What are the credentials of the author?
  • How accurate is the information and can it be verified?
  • Are sources cited and how reliable are they?
  • How objective is it? Does it only represent one viewpoint?
  • How up-to-date is it? Are the statistics still relevant?

It’s always better to go to a reliable and credible website for up to date information – such as Ausmed.

Ausmed is the only Australian nurse education provider to gain accreditation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation (ANCC). Essentially, this means that the Ausmed website and resources have gone through a rigorous testing process to ensure that they are of the highest quality, and professional standards have been met.

Click here to see how you can access to Ausmed’s online education in your organisation.

Always Check a CPD Provider for Accreditation

Ultimately, as with traditional sources, critical appraisal is necessary to evaluate the worth and effectiveness of online educational resources. Every health education provider required the student and developing professional to learn how to critically appraise primary and secondary reference materials to form effective evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, the same level of attention to online sources has been scant, if not non-existent.

One suggestion made by the METRIQ study team is that online educational resources will need a group approach to appraise and evaluate credibility and reliability. It could be argued that this is already taking place, in perhaps a more informal format, on social media sites by nurses themselves.

There’s also the accreditation schemes from governing and professional bodies around the world that are becoming increasingly important against the tide of open access health opinion.

Whatever changes my happen in the future regarding source verification and research education, it is crucial that clinical educators take action today to ensure they are using the best resources possible in the development and provision of their education/training programs.


  • Chan, TM, Thoma, B, Krishnan, K, Lin, M, Carpenter, CR, Astin, M & Kulasegaram, K 2016, ‘Derivation of Two Critical Appraisal Scores for Trainees to Evaluate Online Educational Resources: A METRIQ Study’, Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, vol. 17, no. 5, pp. 574–84, viewed 10 April 2017,
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