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E-learning programmes: an essential guide

Successful e-learning programme takes into account adult needs

Someone reading a book placed on a laptop screenThe simplest way to define e-learning is to consider it as instructional "packets" delivered to students via the internet or computer-based technologies. These "packets" contain training or educational information, and can be made up of various formats (including audio and video) to maximise the learning experience.

The benefits of e-learning programmes are well referenced, and include: improved performance compared with standard classroom situation; convenience/flexibility for learners (time management and study location); and increased access and reach for the courses provided. Softer benefits include the ability to link to external content (webcasts), and bookmark progress at a rate convenient to the student.

With adult-learning techniques you have to take into account that adults, compared with children, are motivated and absorb information in very differently. Adults start with pre-knowledge, which varies with life experience. They tend to predict outcomes (second-guess) and become less interested in the content/learning experience and this reduces their ability to retain information, hence learning programmes become less effective. Adults also like to be in control of their experience/time, and are aware of and motivated by progress.

An effective e-learning programme takes this into account, and instructional design becomes a critical part of the process. Instructional design concerns information conveyed on screen (eg, animation or build-ups) and ongoing interactive assessments. Excerpta Medica uses over 100 templates to present questions in an interactive and engaging manner.

The most effective e-learning programmes are those a) designed to be part of an overall educational programme and b) awareness promoted! They don't work in isolation, so your target audience must know that these courses are available.

So, is there a need for e-learning? Absolutely! Taking the Pulse from Datamonitor and Manhattan Research reports that both the time spent online and the number of continuing medical education (CME) courses undertaken by European physicians are on the increase.


The elements of an e-learning programme 

E-learning programme


eCME is electronically delivered CME. If you wish to apply for accredited eCME, this should be decided prior to starting the project as you will need to demonstrate that a needs assessment has been conducted, and that you have independent authors (and reviewers) in place. Content should be strictly educational with no marketing messages – one of the easiest ways of demonstrating this is through the use of unrestricted educational grants.

In Europe, the Union Européenne des Médicins Spécialistes (UEMS) is responsible for the European Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (EACCME), and provides clear guidelines on course development. To date, Excerpta Medica has a 100 per cent success rate in obtaining accreditation based on these golden rules:
• Clearly define learning objectives
• Clearly define educational objectives
• Ensure a thorough needs assessment has taken place before commencement
• Work with a committed, well-respected author
• Apply adult-learning techniques to the course
• Work with a reputable independent reviewer
• Include an assessment section at the end of the course
• Limit the duration of the course (plus assessment) to 60 minutes
• Preferably host on an independent site
• Work with pharma clients through an unrestricted educational grant
• Provide European standard multilingual courses − adaptation to local country guidelines should be made independently at local level
• Don't be afraid to speak directly with the UEMS – they are there to help!
• Be prepared to manage client expectations and respect the data protection act. You wont be able to share certain data about physicians directly with your client/grant provider.

Sally-Anne Robinson
The Author

Sally-Anne Robinson is business development director for Excerpta Medica, Amsterdam
Email her at:

This article was first published in PME May/June 2010 as part of the Thought Leader series.

To comment on this article, email


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28th May 2010


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