Distance Learning - Its Rise to Prominence Due to Covid-19 and How it Could Change the Future of Learning Forever

Distance learning for the future


Covid-19 has changed the course of most of our lives and affecting every sphere of society. Education business and lifestyles have been shrouded with uncertainty. Effective solutions in education and learning that keep us moving forward are greatly sought after during this time of social distancing and stringent safety measures.

One such solution is distance learning. And thanks to better technology and connectivity, it’s becoming a mainstream solution for education and training across verticals.

Since healthcare is one of the most needed and one of the most knowledge-heavy, learning and skill development cannot be put on hold. 

Building a progressive and continuous education system through distance learning - Covid-19 and beyond

In the wake of the pandemic, training healthcare personnel and upskilling those working at medical institutions plays a vital role in helping win the war against the virus. 

Healthcare facilities undergo several pre-emptive training sessions such as:

  • Using sanitizers, PPE and physical shields
  • Different respirators and their uses
  • Procedures on cleaning 
  • Cross-training of staff to prepare for possible absenteeism owing to Covid-19

The option to conduct such training online saves time and keeps more people safe and able to care for others.

Traditionally healthcare education has been dominated by in-person, classroom settings – that is until the pandemic hit and students could not attend physical classes as a safety measure. The pandemic has been the “launch” for online learning to become the primary aid to traditional teaching.

Does remote learning work? 

  • Medical students learn at their own pace anytime, anywhere, without affecting the curriculum. 
  • Final year students and residents are able to learn and practice simultaneously on eLearning platforms without overloading them. 
  • Aspiring students need not be anxious about completing their medical education on time and being job-ready. 
  • As an educator, concerns about classroom disruptions, teacher-student bias, and stuffing of information within a short time span, can be set aside.

Dr. Amjad from the University of Jordan expressed at the World Economic Forum that online learning can in fact go hand in hand with traditional classroom training to enhance learning interactively.

Different forms of eLearning 

Research has shown a number of non-didactic teaching methods that yield excellent learning outcomes (Merriman, Stayt PhD, & Ricketts, 2014), (Maddry, 2014). (De Gagne, et al., 2019)

  1. Studying from home requires greater focus, organization skill and time management. A study conducted by De Gagne and his team found that platforms that offer gamified learning themes, pop-quizzes, and short modules in the form of micro-learning are effective and popular with students and practicing healthcare professionals.
  2. Using live online discussions, monitored discussion forums and interactive eLearning platforms such as a web-based or real-time simulation resolves concerns over learner interactivity between guides and peers. 
  3. Practical project work with hands-on experience is understandably limited through online learning modules. This is where computer-based or web-based simulation modules provide ample ground for students to ethically ‘practice’ lessons, procedures, diagnoses, etc. until they get it right.

Many medical, nursing, paramedical, pharmacy, research and development students have recently entered the frontlines with little hands-on experience in working in clinical surroundings. 

What they need is a quick and effective method to bring them up to speed in rendering high quality medical care safely.

The next level in online training – simulation learning

“Simulation is simply a representation of a real-life phenomenon, in a way that conveys experiential knowledge to a learner”. Simulation captures a learner’s attention immediately, by placing him/her in a life-like setting online to learn, explore, experiment, make mistakes and learn the rewards of doing-it-right! 

To err is human! But, in order to improve healthcare quality, ‘human error’ must be minimized. Simulation has been considered as one of the top techniques to improve quality of healthcare (proposed by Dr David Gaba – one of the fathers of simulation in healthcare) (Rider & Schertzer, 2020). 

How healthcare simulation works to improve healthcare quality

In the real world, the work environment comprises of a hospital setting with real patients. When learners act in this environment, they get real results with no room for error. This is the basis for medical apprenticeships.

On the other hand, simulated environments are built using mathematical models that are programmed to follow established laws and principles. When learners act in the simulated environment, the program calculates the outcome and virtual results are obtained (Formaggia, Quarteroni, & Veneziani, 2010) (Al-Elq, 2010).

For medical students:

Application of knowledge is what sets medical students apart from a scholarly layman. Using simulation training to augment distance learning provides learners with virtual hands-on experience.

For example: 

A new resident can take up scenario-based simulations such as treating a patient suffering from cardiac arrhythmias from the emergency room till the patient has been stabilized. Real-life details such as: patients experiencing fainting spells, chest pain or dizziness; medical device readings such as the pulse, breathing, consciousness; and administering life-saving medications, under varying circumstances are experienced. Each action and response from the learner is recorded and the outcome is provided at the end of the session. Modules can be re-run, without risks, to train learners until they are confident and achieve optimum outcomes in clinical settings. 

For healthcare professionals:

Practicing physicians, surgeons, anaesthesiologists, nurses, or physician’s assistants are able to earn CME hours or credits that contribute toward maintaining their professional licenses, by undergoing simulation training. 

Many studies such the one published by Thielen and his colleagues from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children Edinburgh, UK, titled “Regular in situ simulation training of paediatric medical emergency team improves hospital response to deteriorating patients” (Theilen U, 2013) have  shown that regular – weekly, monthly or quarterly training has yielded better patient outcomes. This is because simulation training boosts long term memory and improves critical decision making such as assessment, correct diagnosis, and treatment by healthcare workers.

For clinical laboratory professionals:

Laboratory testing manually consumes resources, space, and specialized equipment, which could otherwise be used for regular medical testing in the course of treating patients. Simulating a laboratory setting enables students to perform laboratory tests accurately, safely and as many times as they need to. Lab test results are also obtained much quicker than in real life. 

For medical representatives:

Medical representatives employed by pharmaceutical manufacturers can undergo sales training using simulation modules. Reps can interact with simulated characters and learn how to implement sales strategies. Clinical simulations that give reps a look at what the physician and patient have to face will give the representative a better understanding of the medical device or medicine that is being promoted (MacAdams, 2020).

Contemporary learning: embracing the future

Many leading educational institutions have already begun adopting simulation learning as a valuable tool. Once the pandemic has been put behind us, pairing traditional classroom learning with simulation training can (Al-Elq, 2010):

  • Increase patient recovery rates
  • Improve surgery outcomes
  • Lower the number of times patients revisit hospitals
  • Lower incidents associated with medical negligence

E-Learning and Simulation can thus positively impact the quality of healthcare itself by enabling healthcare professionals to perfect their technical and non-technical skills throughout their practice. 


  1. Al-Elq, A. (2010). Simulation-based medical teaching and learning. Journal of family & community medicine, 17(1), 35–40. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/1319-1683.68787
  2. De Gagne, J. C., Park, H. K., Hall, K., Woodward, A., Yamane, S., & Kim, S. S. (2019). Microlearning in Health Professions Education: Scoping Review. JMIR medical education, 5(2), e13997. doi:https://doi.org/10.2196/13997
  3. Formaggia, L., Quarteroni, A., & Veneziani, A. (2010). Cardiovascular Mathematics: Modeling and simulation of the circulatory system (Vol. 1). Springer Science & Business Media.
  4. MacAdams, C. (2020). PharmaVOICE. Retrieved from https://www.pharmavoice.com/article/955/
  5. Maddry, J. K. (2014). A comparison of simulation-based education versus lecture-based instruction for toxicology training in emergency medicine residents. Journal of medical toxicology : official journal of the American College of Medical Toxicology, , 10(4), 364-368. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s13181-014-0401-8
  6. Merriman, C. D., Stayt PhD, L. C., & Ricketts, B. (2014, March). Comparing the Effectiveness of Clinical Simulation versus Didactic Methods to Teach Undergraduate Adult Nursing Students to Recognize and Assess the Deteriorating Patient. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 10(3), e119-e127. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecns.2013.09.004
  7. Rider, A., & Schertzer, K. (2020, Aug 16). Quality Improvement in Medical Simulation. StatPearls [Internet]. doi:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551497/
  8. Theilen U, L. P. (2013). Regular in situ simulation training of paediatric medical emergency team improves hospital response to deteriorating patients. Resuscitation, 84(2), 218-222. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2012.06.027

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