AMEE 2009, Malaga, Spain. During his symposium Dr David A. Cook from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, US presented his findings from four meta-analyses and systematic reviews that compared the effectiveness of different modes of learning.
Dr Cook and team analysed comparisons between online learning versus no intervention, online learning versus computer-assisted learning activities, and they also looked at the use of virtual patients and computer animations to see whether one method had any advantage over another.
As he explained, the results were unsurprising. “What we found was, when we teach people they learn. So, for example, when we compared online versus no intervention the people who received instruction from the computer learned.”
“This is reassuring because it confirms to us that people can learn with computers, and that’s a good thing to know,” he said.
However, as Dr Cook explained, on average the results from these studies show that the media of the education tool does not affect the learning, but the instructional method does. In other words research comparing online with traditional teaching methods may not be meaningful because the media is different.
As he explained: “Out of 76 studies in Internet-based instruction and almost 20 studies in virtual patients, all suggest that on average it doesn’t make a difference whether you teach in a traditional method or with a computer.
And although some studies favoured computer-based methods of teaching and others favoured face-to-face approaches he felt these differences could be attributed to different instructional methods – with the groups who received better instructional design achieving better results.
“We’re yet to prove this,” he admitted. “But the next step is to determine what can be done to improve medical courses.”
According to Dr Cook, the next step is to focus research on the features of computer assisted learning tools that improve learning – interactivity, feedback and repeating learning activities – and determine whether these benefits translate into practice.
“Unfortunately the literature so far does not address this,” he said. “So we need more research.”
Listen to the full interview with Dr David Cook here