Dr Neel Sharma and Vivian Chau ask what the advent of technology and emphasis on E and M learning might mean for the world of medicine. The possibilities, they suggest, are endless.


The pedagogical advances occurring in the world of education are certainly fast paced. Didactic lecture hall teaching is now outdated courtesy of problem and team based learning in addition to the novel approach of the ‘flipped classroom’.

With the advent of technology and emphasis on E and M learning, we are now experiencing an era of continuous educational revolution with MOOC’s being evident of this phenomenon. Such massive open online courses have sparked from the fact that in the vast majority of cases people are often unable to gain education from world renowned institutions if not physically resident in such areas or unable to gain education due to issues allied to affordability.

Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng recognised this dilemma and founded the online learning site Coursera where top institutions and highly rated instructors offer courses in an array of fields such as the arts, economics and social science. Students undertake these courses online, undergo regular assignments and if successful are awarded a certification of completion.

So what does this mean for the world of medicine? Well the possibilities are endless. Imagine being a student and wanting to learn about pathology not common in their area of learning. Or imagine wanting to gain knowledge and expertise from surgeons across the globe gaining their perspective on how they choose to perform a particular procedure. The intervention can also certainly come in handy for those students unable to visit far out places on electives but may still gain educational merit from undertaking courses delivered by that particular institution’s practice of healthcare. And how about those individuals simply interested in the marvel of medical science but with a completely different educational background. Maybe they would be interested in taking a course on the anatomy of the brain, physiology of the heart or gain an understanding of the diseases affecting our digestive system. Putting aside what the teacher or institution offers what about the mere fact that if students are all pooled together in this way, the opportunities for learning from a collaborative perspective will become immense.

The 2 sigma problem courtesy of Benjamin Brown focused on analysing student’s performance when undertaking lecture or mastery based classes or one-on-one tutoring. The end result being that students’ achievement scores in the latter group were 2 standard deviations higher as compared to the other cohorts.
The concept of MOOCs emphasises this principle by encouraging one to one tutoring and leveraging technology which is now not only akin to students but common place in society as a whole. And its place in the education of future doctors will surely prove to be of great value.


The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring. Benjamin S. Bloom. Educational Researcher. Vol. 13, No. 6 (1984), pp. 4-16

Dr Neel Sharma, Honorary Clinical Lecturer, Centre for Medical Education, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Email - [email protected]
Vivian Chau, Institute of Medical and Health Sciences Education, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong