Keeping up to date and maintaining currency on developments in medicine are a routine part of medical practice, but the means by which this is accomplished are changing rapidly. Training, maintenance of certification, continuing education, mentoring, and career development will all be transformed in the coming years because of new technology and changing needs of physicians. Traditional learning channels such as print media and in-person courses will give way to options that emphasize ease of access, collaboration with fellow learners, and digitally optimized content.
Education and content delivery
The primary distribution channels for keeping medical professionals current in their specialty will continue to shift away from print publications and expand to digital outlets including podcasts, video, and online access to content.1 Individuals seeking to keep up professionally will increasingly turn to resources that can be found quickly and easily, for example, through voice search. Content that has been optimized to appear quickly and with a clear layout adapted to a wide variety of devices will most likely be consumed at a higher rate than resources from well-established organizations that have not transformed their continuing education content. There is already a growing demand for video and audiocasts accessible via mobile device.2
John D. Buckley, MD, FCCP, professor of medicine and vice chair for education at Indiana University, Indianapolis, sees the transformation of content delivery as a net plus for physicians, with a couple of caveats. He noted, “Whether it is conducting an in-depth literature search, reading/streaming a review lecture, or simply confirming a medical fact, quick access can enhance patient care and advance learning in a manner that meets an individual’s learning style. One potential downside is the risk of unreliable information, so accessing trustworthy sources is essential. Another potential downside is that, while accessing the answer to a very specific question can be done very easily, this might compromise additional learning of related material that used to occur when you had to read an entire book chapter to answer your question. Not only did you answer your question, you learned a lot of other relevant information along the way.”
Online learning is now a vast industry and has been harnessed by millions to further professional learning opportunities. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll.3 MOOCs have been established at Harvard, MIT, Microsoft, and other top universities and institutions in subjects like computer science, data science, business, and more. MOOCs are being replicated in conventional universities and are projected to be a model for adult learning in the coming decade.4
Another trend is the growing interest in microlearning, defined as short educational activities that deal with relatively small learning units utilized at the point where the learner will actually need the information.5
Dr. Buckley sees potential in microlearning for continuing medical education. “It is unlikely that microlearning would be eligible for CME currently unless there were a mechanism for aggregating multiple events into a substantive unit of credit. But the ACCME [Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education] has been very adaptive to various forms of learning, so aggregate microlearning for CME credit may be possible in the future.” He added that the benefits of rapid and reliable access of specific information from a trusted source are significant, and the opportunities for microlearning for chest physicians are almost limitless. “Whether searching for the most updated review of a medical topic, or checking to see if your ICU patient’s sedating medication can cause serotonin syndrome, microlearning is already playing a large role in physician education, just less formal that what’s been used historically,” he said.
Institutions for which professional development learning modules are an important revenue stream will increasingly be challenged to compete with open-access courses of varying quality.
A key trend identified in 2018 is accelerating higher-education technology adoption and a growing focus on measured outcomes and learning.5 Individuals are interested in personalized learning plans and adaptive learning systems that can provide real-time assessments and immediate feedback. It is expected that learning modules and curricula will be most successful if they are easily accessed, attractively presented, and incorporate immediate feedback on learning progress. Driving technology adoption in higher education in the next 3-5 years will be the proliferation of open educational resources and the rise of new forms of interdisciplinary studies. As the environment for providing and accessing content shifts from pay-to-access to open-access, organizations will need to identify a new value proposition if they wish to grow or maintain related revenue streams.6
The implications of these changes in demand are profound for creators of continuing education content for medical professionals. Major investment will be needed in new, possibly costly platforms that deliver high-quality content with accessibility and interactive elements to meet the demands of professionals, the younger generation in particular.7 The market will continue to develop new technology to serve continuing education needs and preferences of users, thus fueling competition among stakeholders. With the proliferation of free and low-cost online and virtual programs, continuing education providers may experience a negative impact on an important revenue stream if they don’t identify a competitive advantage that meets the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. However, educational programs and courses that use artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality to enhance the learning experience are likely to experience higher levels of use in the coming years.8