How the pandemic provides opportunities to evolve traditional medical education activities into modern learning solutions


While initial impressions may be that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a barrier for medical education initiatives, this is not necessarily the case across the board.

Indeed, as the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and perhaps the pandemic provides new impetus to evolving towards modern learning solutions.

Faculty and participant availability and collaboration

While some researchers and clinicians are busy responding to the pandemic (or are personally affected), cancelled/postponed/delayed clinical trials, restricted travel and a decline in patients seeking medical advice for other conditions mean that others have more time on their hands. So, before delaying medical education plans, assess the appetite and availability of potential faculty and participants in your therapy area – our experience shows that interest can be high, especially among those who are non-hospital based.
Now could be an ideal time to collaborate on the development and delivery of educational initiatives. The development phase often gets rushed, so why not take the opportunity to do things differently? Collaborating with the target learner group (not just the faculty) is crucial to creating a ‘pull’ for learning:

  • If learning is ‘pushed’ it doesn’t generally ‘stick’; without repetition, information is forgotten, a concept illustrated by Ebbinghaus’s ‘forgetting curve’1, but if the learner engages in ‘pull-type learning’ the forgetting curve is flipped and it becomes a ‘learning curve’.
  • By collaborating with learners to leverage formats and channels that work for them, and optimizing utility and design, we can eliminate the need for instruction and enable pull-type learning.


This additional time could also be used to understand the motivations of learners and how best to address these aspects when developing the materials. For example:

  • Learners need to feel motivated to learn and to be able to recall the learning at the point of need. Enabling pull-type learning will help, but emotional context is also important, as it determines how we store and process information – known as the Affective Context Model2. There are most likely things that you spent time learning yet can’t recall (high-school algebra, perhaps!) and other things that have just stuck in your mind, like the words of a song. The chances are that the song has a strong affective context for you, it may have been playing the summer that you finished your exams or when you first met your partner. While you await trial data, why not spend time building a powerful affective context for the education – a step that often gets overlooked?
  • Learners also need to feel motivated to do something with what they have learned; knowing something new does not equate to doing something different (this is why it is important to focus on performance outcomes versus learning objectives). If you wish learners to make a behavior change on the basis of an educational initiative, taking the time to understand their motivations and belief-based behaviors will be time well spent; insights research and analytics can be highly informative here.

Content in the absence of clinical trial data

Delays with clinical trials will mean reduced data availability to support the content of educational initiatives. It may be possible to address these data gaps through real-world evidence generation or by focusing on non-data-led education (e.g. disease awareness), but it is also worth remembering that learning is not just about knowledge transfer; an individual’s competency to do something comprises three elements: skills, knowledge and ability. So, while you await clinical trial data, you may want to consider the desired performance outcomes and identify what factors—beyond data/knowledge—will enable these.

Delivery in the absence of face-to-face events

Given that face-to-face events are not possible during the COVID-19 lockdown, and even when they may be in the future, people may be less keen to travel to them, there is an opportunity to focus on different approaches to delivering education. This is something we ought to be considering anyway, as people don’t generally learn ‘just in case’, but more usually ‘just in time’, i.e. at the point of need – especially in today’s world where information is so widely and readily accessible. A good guide is the 70/20/10 rule:

  • 70% focus on resources that learners can use at the point of need (e.g. online content such as videos);
  • 20% focus on informal learning experiences (collaboration platforms, video conferencing, virtual mentoring sessions, etc);
  • 10% focus on courses; either face-to-face or remote (e.g. e-learning, webinars).

So, now is the time to embrace digital/social media approaches and/or hardcopy materials/tools – most of us have needed to be agile in other aspects of our life, so why not for our educational initiatives?

In summary…

  • Don’t assume faculty and participants are too busy to engage with education, assess their availability and, if appropriate, collaborate to generate pull-type learning.
  • Do use any additional time you have for your initiative to consider how best to support your target audiences—the learners—in the educational activities.
  • Don’t think that, in the absence of new clinical trial data, you have no material for educational initiatives; consider the performance outcomes that you want the learning to deliver and identify elements beyond the data that will drive these.
  • Do embrace non-face-to-face options for delivering your modern learning solutions, whether that be virtual meetings/remote learning and/or hardcopy materials/tools.

Interested in hearing more about different approaches to medical education? We’re here to help. Please contact us.

1 Ebbinghaus H. 1885. Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology.
2 Picard RW et al. 2004. Affective Learning — a Manifesto. Access May 2020.

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We know there are numerous considerations when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 and what this means for your organization. We are here to help.