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Content and process

Another way of thinking about how to incorporate e-learning is to distinguish between whether you are aiming to support learners through providing access to content using e-learning (e.g. course materials, links to other websites, online databases) and/or whether you aim to use e-learning as supporting the learning process.  Of course, many programmes aim to do both, but the expectations and choice of technologies used and the types of activities selected will be shaped by your overall aim as a teacher and your students’ learning needs.


e-Learning content includes curriculum content; course materials; e-journals, e-books and other resources available through an e-library or online database; commercial materials; the internet (e.g. via Google, Google Scholar or Wikipedia); reusable learning objects; audio and video materials (such as clinical recordings) or podcasts or RSS (really simple syndication) feeds (Ellaway and Masters, 2008; Morris and McKimm, 2009).


Learners expect tangible benefits from using information and communication technology and expect unrestricted access to resources, information and networks. However, they also expect face-to-face interaction to form a large part of their educational experience (Joint Information Systems Committee, 2008). For clinical learners who are working and learning from patients and who are often distant from the university, this is of course vital.


Contact between clinical teachers and learners (and the learners themselves) can be limited by teacher availability and pressures on learners’ time (Issenberg and Scalese, 2007). Earlier versions of the World Wide Web – now referred to as Web 1.0 – (Boulos and Wheeler, 2007) were repositories for information, enabling access to information from anywhere and at any time, and facilitated communication through email and other means.  The use of Web 1.0 technologies such as email or a chat room or a discussion board can increase opportunities for contact and supplement face-to-face contact. The less face-to-face contact time there is between teacher and learner (e.g. in distance learning programmes where technologies provide the only means of contact) the more crucial it is that technologies are employed appropriately to facilitate contact and communication.

Although many e-learning activities directly replicate face-to-face activities (group discussions, reading articles), other activities can be significantly enhanced through e-learning which can facilitate collaboration and cooperation between learners. For example, using the web to deliver a clinical case scenario, supported by online resources (such as simulations, test results, scans and images) would make the case available at any time and place for a group of learners as long as they had internet access. Using tools such as a wiki environment would allow each learner to discuss the case without having to physically meet with others. This flexibility is important for learners who find face-to-face meetings difficult because, for example, of the demands of a part time job or shift work.

Thinking point
How can you best encourage contact, interaction and cooperation between yourself and learners in an e-learning environment?

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