What is the aim of this review?
The aim of this Cochrane Review is to find out whether e-learning, that is, interactive online educational programmes, is more effective than traditional learning (with no access to e-learning) in licensed health professionals for improving patient outcomes or health professionals’ behaviours, skills and knowledge. Cochrane researchers collected and analysed all relevant evidence to answer this question and identified 16 studies.
When compared to traditional learning, e-learning may make little or no difference for improving patient outcomes or health professionals’ behaviours and knowledge, and it is uncertain whether it improves or reduces health professionals’ skills.
What was studied in this review?
Modern technologies have created new platforms for advancing medical education. E-learning has gained popularity due to the potential benefits of personalised instruction, allowing learners to tailor the pace and content of courses to their individual needs, increasing the accessibility of information to remote learners, decreasing costs and facilitating frequent content updates.
Previous reviews have not identified differences, but they were limited by the type of participants included (mix of licensed health professionals and medical students) and study types evaluated (randomised together with non-randomised trials).
What are the main results of the review?
The review authors identified 16 relevant studies from 10 different countries, providing data on 5679 participants (4759 mixed health professionals, 587 nurses, 300 doctors and 33 childcare health consultants). Companies funded three studies, whereas government agencies financed six.
One study with 847 health professionals found little or no difference between e-learning and traditional learning on patient outcomes at one year, and two studies with 950 health professionals suggested little to no difference in health professionals’ behaviours at 3 to 12 months, as the certainty of the evidence was low. We are uncertain whether e-learning improves or reduces health professionals’ skills at 0 to 12 weeks’ follow-up, based on the results of six studies with 2912 participants and very low certainty of evidence. E-learning may also make little or no difference on health professionals’ knowledge, based on the results from 11 studies with 3236 participants at 0 to 12 weeks follow-up, as the certainty of the evidence was low.
How up-to-date is this review?
The review authors searched for studies that had been published up to July 2016.