In the view of the Oxford University Press Blog (2017) technology is ‘cool’ and increasingly a part of student’s lives. Yet, as the demand for technology enhanced learning (TEL) increases many teachers and facilitators find themselves playing catch up with the vast array of new technologies that promise to revolutionise healthcare education.
In the view of Moran et al. (2018), new students are now so deeply immersed in technology that they are less able to function in traditional classroom settings, leaving their trainers faced with the often-daunting task of providing the most appropriate technology-based learning environment to meet their needs.
Virtual reality, augmented reality and mobile learning, are just a few examples of how technology is becoming embedded in modern teaching methods. It’s a trend bolstered by the view that it’s no longer acceptable to learn on live patients using the long-standing teaching method of “see one, do one, teach one”.
So, which of the many new technologies are the most helpful in supporting a student’s development, and which should be approached with caution?
New and Emerging Technologies
Guze (2015) suggests the following technologies are most often used to enhance learning:
Podcasts and videos used with flipped classrooms;
Mobile devices with web-based learning tools;
Digital games and apps; and
Video games and virtual reality.
Bullock and Webb (2015) summarise these recent advances by placing the wide variety of technology on offer into three distinct categories:
M-learning such as smartphone apps. For example, point-of-care tools such as drug guides and medical calculators can support workplace learning.
Simulations can help to develop technical skills and close the gap between virtual and real-world learning.
Social media sites, blog posts and content communities such as YouTube can provide a more collaborative approach to learning.
Many of these technologies are proving particularly useful in “flipped classrooms” in which students review an online lecture before coming to the classroom for an interactive session. This allows more time to be spent on exploring complex issues, or in active discussion to deepen learning.
E-learning and simulations also form part of a blended approach to learning (Department of Health 2011), with simulation in particular, fulfilling a number of educational goals. Key advantages of simulation include:
Allows for repetitive practice;
Embraces a range of skill levels;
Allows for clinical variation;
Supports learning styles;
Defines benchmark standards; and
Provides instant feedback.
Advantages of Technology Enhanced Learning
In theory, computer technologies offer great advantages to today’s learners. They can make knowledge acquisition much easier, improve decision making, enhance skill coordination and provide an engaging educational environment. Many also have the added benefit of being able to assess competence and provide students at any level, with real time feedback on their progress.
Guze (2015) suggests that some of the key benefits of technology-assisted learning can be summarised by the following points.
Learning occurs in safe controlled environments that eliminate risk to patients;
Authentic contexts are offered for learning and assessment;
Instruction can be tailored to both individual and group needs;
Learners can take control of the educational experience;
Repetition and revision of practice are available as needed; and
Instruction and assessments can be standardised.
Considerations and Limitations
Whilst there’s little doubt that new and emerging educational technologies have a lot to offer, there are also reasons for caution.
As the Department of Health (2011) points out, technological applications raise confidentiality issues and need appropriate monitoring along with moderation which can be labour intensive and expensive. The very word ‘enhanced’ also implies ‘adding to’ or making an improvement to an existing way of doing things, which may not be appropriate or accurate.
Bullock and Webb (2015) also highlight 3 important reasons that teachers should be cautious about embracing technology. They are all areas that are also currently lacking in valid and reliable research.
Using learning technology in the workplace changes the interaction with others and can raise issues of professionalism and etiquette.
Lack of regulation can make it difficult to assess the educational quality of an application or other forms of interactive technology.
Distraction and dependency commonly arise from using smartphones in the workplace.
Transforming Healthcare Education
As educators are trying to keep up with the burgeoning array of technological advances, so students’ expectations are getting higher and more demanding each day. For Saffari et al. (2014) this highlights the need for the mastery of educational technology to be a recognised competence for all educators. In the same way, it’s becoming clear that good quality research cannot keep up with the number of new educational technologies that need to be evaluated.
In the view of Moran et al. (2018) all health care educators should be called on to play an active role in determining exactly how technology can benefit healthcare education. This means that educators also have to consider if the many benefits of technology-assisted learning actually outweigh the downsides of social isolation associated with classroom independent learning. Whilst some educators attempt to overcome this by introducing yet more technology in the form of online communication and networking such as blogs, there is a real danger of generating technology overload.
With this in mind, Guze (2015) reminds us again that the use of technology in education should always be used to support learning and not replace face to face teaching. The challenge then is to use these new technologies to empower the learning experience without losing the human touch.
In addition to facilitating the basic acquisition of knowledge and improved decision making, educational technologies have the particular advantage of not being bound by time and space. This makes them ideal education tools to:
Maximize opportunities for lifelong learning, anytime and anywhere;
Facilitate individualised learning and personalised progression;
Encourage active collaboration among both teachers and learners; and
Support interprofessional learning opportunities.
(Macy Foundation 2015)
The technology used in healthcare education is set to expand even further in the years to come and digital literacy is no longer the domain of a few specialists.
Evidence gathered by the Royal College of Nursing (2019) suggests that people who have better digital literacy also tend to have more positive attitudes towards adopting new technologies. As a result, it’s now broadly accepted that everyone who works in health and social care must have a basic training in the use of educational technology.
That said, technological applications are only a means to an end and should not be seen as a substitute for other methods of learning, but rather as a way of providing enhanced learning as part of a managed and integrated educational process (Department of Health 2011). It’s a delicate balance that needs care to maintain and it can mean saying ‘no’ to new technologies just as much as it can mean saying ‘yes’.
Bullock, A., Webb, K. (2015) ‘Technology in postgraduate medical education: a dynamic influence on learning?’, Postgraduate Medical Journal , 91(), pp. 646-650 [Online]. Available at: https://pmj.bmj.com/content/91/1081/646.info(Accessed: 10.1.19).
Department of Health (2011) A Framework for Technology Enhanced Learning , Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215316/dh_131061.pdf(Accessed: 10.1.19).
Guze, P.A. (2015) ‘Using Technology to Meet the Challenges of Medical Education’, Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association , 126(), pp. 260-270 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530721/(Accessed: 10.1.19).
Macy Foundation (2015) Enhancing Health Professions Education through Technology: Building a Continuously Learning Health System, Arlington, Virginia: Macy Foundation.
Moran, J., Briscoe, G. and Peglow, S. (2018) ‘Current Technology in Advancing Medical Education: Perspectives for Learning and Providing Care’, Academic Psychiatry, 42(6), pp. 796–799 [Online]. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40596-018-0946-y (Accessed: 10.1.19).
Oxford University Press Blog (2017) Harnessing the power of technology in medical education, Available at: https://blog.oup.com/2017/12/technology-in-medical-education/(Accessed: 10.1.19).
Saffari, Z., Takmil, F. and Arabzadh, Z. (2014 ) ‘The role of educational technology in medical education’, Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism, 4(183), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235561/(Accessed: 10.1.19).
Royal College of Nursing (2019) Improving Digital Literacy, Available at: https://www.rcn.org.uk/professional-development/publications/pub-006129(Accessed: 10.1.19).