UPFRONT: eLearning for Ophthalmology

With few experts and growing health care need, demand grows for alternative education methods.


“We need to bring learning to people instead of people to learning.”
– Elliot Masie, educational technology expert

Most higher-learning institutions have implemented eLearning into their curriculums. This is a subset of distance learning that has garnered considerable interest because it is cost effective, accessible, and flexible in terms of time and place. It is a platform to provide education over the internet or other electronic method. By definition, eLearning extends geographic access to education and is highly scalable. There are 2 main forms of eLearning: synchronous and asynchronous.

In synchronous eLearning, the interaction is live, requiring all participants to be available at the same time. The course is interactive, with communication available between the educator and students. It is most similar to in-person education. One example is the grand rounds and other courses at the Cole Eye Institute that are broadcast live to our facilities throughout the region and world. In contrast, asynchronous eLearning is a web-based training course where participants can access the course at any time at their own pace. There may be a way to ask questions, but the course is usually prerecorded.

Implementation of eLearning has become very advanced in the developed world but has lagged in the Middle East and Africa, which has the highest growth rate of eLearning in the world. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to continued effective implementation in many of these third-world countries. The most obvious is lack of access to the internet. In many African countries, the penetration of the internet is less than 2% of the population and, if available, it is often incredibly slow.

Another less obvious benefit of eLearning is that learners take responsibility for their learning. They are actively seeking out knowledge and this helps with their education. The techniques used to deliver learning are also improving with better interactivity and feedback.

In this issue is a very interesting article on the status of eLearning in ophthalmology, in particular surrounding retinopathy of prematurity. This is a topic that is perfect for eLearning as the experts are few and the general knowledge poor. Ophthalmology resident and even retina fellowship training in ROP is variable at best and minimal at worst. Many graduates without a proper foundation to diagnose and treat ROP. Many will be asked to evaluate babies in their future jobs. The authors accurately describe the problem and the platforms from various groups, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

There is no doubt that eLearning is the future of ophthalmic education. Courses are available to anyone with an internet connection and desire to learn, worldwide. One can only hope that these platforms and the number of available courses will continue to grow. RP

Listen to episodes of Straight From the Cutter’s Mouth with discussion of Retinal Physician articles.