Open Access

Medical ‘e-learning’ and the user experience

Christiana Boules[2], Johann Malawana[3]

Institution: 2. King's College London, 3. Vopulus LTD, London
Corresponding Author: Ms Christiana Boules ([email protected])
Categories: Medical Education (General), Teaching and Learning, Technology
Published Date: 10/10/2017
Keywords: e-learning


Dear Editor,

Amidst concerns that online learning can place a metaphorical, as well as a physical distance between teacher and pupil (Emery, 2017), we would argue that this is only because of its current failings. ‘Online learning’ is amassed together, but it encompasses a multitude of delivery methods. Poor integration of different media, quality content, and a secure delivery channel, is why online learning can fail in medical education.

One of the main attractions of digital education can be illustrated by its presence on social media (SM). SM demonstrates that there is scope for continuous teacher-pupil interactivity, enhancing the learning experience. Unfortunately, SM and other platforms providing ‘free open access medicine’, can have the drawback of being unregulated if left without monitoring. These cannot, therefore, always be relied upon to replace ‘live teaching’, but if recognized institutions and individuals can share their intellectual property in a secure manner, online training could become more widely respected and utilised.

The user experience, utility and academic rigour of the content and product are all contributing factors in making online learning more effective. Often the poor experience of end users provides the impetus to improve delivery, and in medical education, platforms such as Touch Surgery (TS, 2017), and Medical Realities (MR, 2017) are examples of this.

Undoubtedly, e-learning for medical students can only ever be complementary: we do not live in a virtual world and do not treat virtual patients. However, a significant proportion of medical curricula consists of fact learning and skill demonstration.  E-learning can exploit these areas to appropriately match the efficiency of education with the increasing demand for competent, up-to-date doctors. This allows students to focus more time on the complex and fundamentally more important tasks of practical skills, communication, and higher function development.

Further efforts are needed to utilise enhanced e-learning systems, particularly within postgraduate education. Whilst there is literature discussing the use of online learning in medicine, the evidence base does not expand at the same rate as the technology advances. Outcomes from digital and live teaching are not commented upon concurrently so cannot be fairly compared. Conducting prospective cohort studies comparing learning and scoring outcomes, as well as qualitative analysis of student preference in tandem with the use of new delivery systems, would begin to tackle this issue.

Take Home Messages

Notes On Contributors

Christiana Boules is a final year medical student at King’s College London and the Academic Content Editor of Vopulus Ltd, a medical education technology company.

Johann Malawana is the Co-founder and CEO of Vopulus Ltd, a medical education technology company.  (https://medics.academy/). 



Emery A. (2017). E-lectures and online learning: Not a replacement for live teaching. Med Teach. 0:0.


[MR] Medical Realities. (2017). London: Medical Realities Ltd; [accessed 2017, Aug 31].


[TS] Touch Surgery. (2015-2017). London: Kinosis Ltd; [accessed 2017, Aug 31].




There are some conflicts of interest:
Christiana Boules is a final year medical student at King’s College London and the Academic Content Editor of Vopulus Ltd, a medical education technology company. Johann Malawana is the Co-founder and CEO of Vopulus Ltd, a medical education technology company. (https://medics.academy/)
This has been published under Creative Commons "CC BY-SA 4.0" (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)


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P Ravi Shankar - (26/10/2017) Panel Member Icon
I read with interest this letter to the editor. From the title of the letter I was expecting a more detailed explanation of the user experience and how it can affect and influence e-learning. The authors briefly mention different methods used for e-learning and the benefits and disadvantages of e-learning. I agree with the authors that e-learning in medicine can only complement real world learning. The article is well written but I would have liked a greater description of these topics and especially of how the user experience can impact e-learning. The authors have provided a few references but two of these references are descriptions of proprietary software. The authors have described their conflicts of interest. They have also put forward suggestions for future research.
Mohammad Razai - (12/10/2017)
This is a very good contribution to this discussion. I agree with the thrust of the arguments made in this succinct letter. Anyone who has sat in a lecture, participated in a seminar or been an observer of similar traditional learning methods would appreciated the extraordinary power of elearning/virtual learning spaces. Learning facts, theories and concepts are usually better done in a stimulating environment with audiovisual effects, interactive multimedia and other features as described above. We all know from the famous pyramid of learning about the percentage of retained learning in different teaching and learning methods.

The authors touch on the perceived failings of current technology and the need for more research in this area which is very welcome. However, one of the reasons that elearning can fail is perhaps the generational divide in using and incorporating technology effectively in learning processes. This may be that teachers who are used to traditional forms of teaching may be slower to adapt to new ways of delivering information.

The content quality is another important issue that this letter raises. Also, the fact that we cannot teach everything virtually most notably practical and clinical skills.