PHOENIX-Medical students who use computer-assisted learning (CAL) when learning epistaxis management have superior performance over their counterparts who simply go by the book. At least this is the finding from a randomized trial of first-year medical students who studied nasal packing techniques either by CAL, or via a standard textbook chapter on the topic. Details of the study were presented at the Triological Society section at the recent annual Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meeting by Jordan Glicksman, BSc, a third-year medical student at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
Explore This IssueSeptember 2009
Computer-assisted learning has been increasing in medical education. It has many advantages, such as allowing students to learn at their own pace, and at the time and location of their choosing, he said. In addition, there are great multimedia capabilities: As well as containing reading and quizzes, in some programs students can practice techniques in a virtual, 3D format and get feedback. It is also a helpful teaching aid for use in rural settings, at satellite campuses, and in developing countries, he said.
Barriers to wider use of CAL include the extra cost of the learning modules, and conflicting evidence in the medical literature about their effectiveness as a learning tool.
However, in some places, such as Canada, there has been a shift toward more self-directed learning in medical education. Indeed, its use is becoming more widespread: In 2003 there were 11,000 online courses available, and that number has increased by more than 10 times now, he said. Self-directed learning can help students identify their own deficiencies and gives them the ability to pursue information and activities to fill in the gaps.
We feel that CAL is an excellent way of orienting students through these interactive activities and quizzes, and we feel that this could potentially allow students a better educational experience, Mr. Glicksman said. At the same time, CAL will not replace other forms of continuing education, and doctors will still need to do things such as attending conferences and reading journal articles.
CAL in Otolaryngology
But just how useful is CAL in otolaryngology? This is an area that has been poorly studied, especially with respect to its effectiveness in teaching procedural skills and in epistaxis management. The lack of evidence is what motivated the launch of this study, he said.
A prospective, blinded, randomized control trial was performed in which first-year medical students were randomized into one of two teaching groups. The first group of 23 students received a teaching module to use on their computer, whereas the second group, comprising 24 students, were given text-based instructions printed on paper. The text-based article was based on a peer-reviewed journal article.