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A bright future for distance-learning?

A bright future for distance-learning? Challenges and potential solutions

The late advances in communication allowed distance barriers to dramatically become less important when it refers to continuing education. At the same time, the great amount of “scientific” information currently available demands from each individual proper training in order to distinguish poor from reliable science. In this regard, many believe the best alternative to address the growing escalade of poor science is to implement strategies fostering broad education programs in evidence-based medicine (EBM). This would allow not only readers to better assess the available evidence but also researchers to produce science on better standards.

The idea is that these concepts should be widely available and introduced gradually so that most citizens could understand its basic terms. To address this challenge, distance-learning training programs are being developed in several locations around the world. However, in spite of the possibility of face to face interactions, there are still several pedagogical challenges in order to allow students to develop critical thinking skills in clinical research. Although our experience confirms that most of our challenges are common to any educational program, such as student motivation and engagement, several issues are exclusive to online programs. In the study entitled the “An international web-based clinical research-training program” [1], we describe some of the challenges and successes of a global distance-learning clinical research-training program.

Challenges faced in distance-learning courses

  1. Student engagement and motivation
  2. Impact of heterogenous audience on learning
  3. Learning in large groups
  4. Enhancing group learning and social presence
  5. Dropouts
  6. Quality control
  7. Course management

Possible solutions

  • Promote more interaction between students to decrease cultural barriers, creating a space to communicate on topics not directly related to the course content.
  • Identify individual factors through an initial course survey which could encourage networking and collaborative research partnerships.
  • Avoid cognitive overload and ensure to develop a strategy to understand the main motivation of students to take the course.
  • Provide easy and constant technical support, defining clear roles and responsibilities for every course staff member.

Distance-learning is an important and accessible method for developing critical thinking skills in research-methodology programs.


[1] Suemoto et al., 2015, ‘Five-year review of an international clinical research-training program’, Adv Med Educ Pract. 6: 249-257.

Conflict of interest statement: None to declare.

Biography: Augusto Cesar Soares dos Santos Jr is a 2019 Building Capacity Bursary recipient to attend EBMLive. He is a Nephrologist with a PhD in Health Sciences, currently based at the Hospital das Clínicas Ebserh, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil. His research involves the use of “real-world” and big-data for Health Technology Assessment (HTA), disinvestment from low-value health technologies, patient involvement with HTA and artificial intelligence in the process of decision making under “uncertainty”.

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