Effective elearning leverages instructional strategies and technology to make new ideas understandable. E-learning can be especially effective for complex and abstract topics. Effective elearning does not take a face-to-face lecture and put it in a rapid elearning development tool with the expectation of delivering effective training at the other end. Giving the learner control, offering opportunities for practice, and integrating multiple media formats are a few methods for creating a rich elearning experience.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes (plus time to view examples)
Depending on the type of learning, there are a variety of ways to engage users. Learning is most effective when the user has control of variables and can compare outcomes as variables are manipulated. With a background in biomedical visualization, I often look at ways elearning is used to communicate life science information. All of the examples described here are winners of the Vesalius Trust’s Dr. Frank H. Netter Award for Special Contributions to Medical Education. The award recognizes life science training that is visually oriented and applies innovative methods to improve depth of knowledge. In each case the target audience is a healthcare professional, meaning the audience has a high level of medical knowledge. Please keep in mind some of the images are depictions of anatomy, which may be unpleasant for people who work outside the health professions.
The Johns Hopkins Atlas of Pancreatic Pathology
It is an understatement to say that learning and development professionals are interested in figuring out how to use mobile devices effectively. Various delivery platforms (e.g., slides, television, print publications, mobile devices) have different strengths and weaknesses that should be considered. Dr. Ralph Hruban and his team use an iPad effectively to share the vast pancreatic pathology knowledge base at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Dr. Jon Davison, Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh commented, “I have found that the algorithmic approach presented in the application for distinguishing tumors in the pancreas is a very effective way to teach our own residents to recognize the most common types of tumors and pathologic entities in the pancreas. This algorithm is presented elsewhere in print; however, the iPad application facilitates comparisons between entities and permits the manipulation of the material in a way that is not possible with a bound book.”
The Johns Hopkins Atlas of Pancreatic Pathology is a free application from the Apple store. It shares the expertise of a world-renowned pathologist and exceptional visual communicators with healthcare providers worldwide.
To see this educational application, watch a Vimeo video demonstration of the atlas.
Virtual Temporal Bone Dissection Project
Simulators are an effective tool for teaching physical skills. They are particularly valuable when lack of skill has high consequences such as during flight or in surgery. This is especially true for surgery on the inner ear, which is encased in dense bone. How do you find your soft tissue target when drilling through bone? The skill required to access the inner ear is particularly important because minor spatial errors could result in damage to the nerve that controls facial muscles. Misdirection could also lacerate the major vein returning blood from the brain to the heart. Either error is disastrous. That’s why learning on a simulator is important.
The Virtual Temporal Bone Dissection Project is a surgical simulator that allows a user to drill into the temporal bone in a practice environment. A haptic device conveys pressure sensitive feedback that is equivalent to the resistance encountered when drilling in real bone. The virtual patient bleeds when a blood vessel is lacerated. Bleeding requires the student to respond in real time, simulating an experience in the operating room.
For more information, visit the Ohio Supercomputer website where you can click the movie icon to download a video demonstration or view the simulation drill in action on a YouTube video.
Note: This project was funded under a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 DC011321.
Human Systems Explorer
Harvard Medical School tasked Dr. Michael Parker with teaching some of the most abstract and difficult concepts in medicine — pathophysiology. Visualizing physiological processes is one strategy that makes Human Systems Explorer effective. Not only are processes visualized, but multiple components are shown simultaneously. Technology allows students to start slowly and integrate information at their own pace until they understand a concept. Audio narration often explains the visuals — a teaching strategy advocated by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard Mayer.
Another success factor is the interactive nature of the modules. In many instances students can change one variable to see the effect on another variable. Changing parameters at your own pace and having the freedom to explore options makes learning effective.
While Human Systems Explorer has many other admirable qualities, one final concept that cannot be overlooked is simplicity. The author eliminates everything except the essential message. That is a lot harder to do than it sounds. It is relatively easy to provide elaborate explanations, but a novice learns best when non-essential details are eliminated and attention is focused on the core message.
The Human Systems Explorer website has examples of nine online training modules.
Understanding complex spatial relationships is a large challenge in medicine. The Glass Horse is a virtual three-dimensional model of the complicated equine digestive tract. The project’s instructional designer, Flint Buchanan, says that veterinary students typically learn digestive tract anatomy from traditional perspectives (e.g., lateral view). However, when students are in the clinic, they encounter the digestive tract in different orientations. With all of the anatomical twists and turns, it is difficult to map textbook learning to anatomy as it is encountered in the clinic. This becomes more complicated as the student comes across digestive pathology. The Glass Horse allows users to rotate the model and view structures from any angle desired, making it easier to transfer knowledge from the learning environment to a clinical setting. The user controlled model is just one of many features that make this elearning effective.
The web as a medium is in its infancy. As might be expected, many people try to transpose training materials in other media (such as slides) to the web. Very often, the result is uninspired training. Leaders in elearning understand the differences among media. They leverage technology to give users control over their learning. They actively engage learners and provide individualized feedback. They use rich media engaging sight, sound, and even touch. The examples shown here are just a few instances of effective elearning that results in deep understanding. It will be exciting to see new developments as the medium evolves.