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Medical School Courses Going Online


Passive lecture-style courses still predominate during the first two years of medical school. In an effort to revitalize medical education, some schools are moving away from the traditional classroom model and embracing online learning to complement or even provide an alternative to in-class sessions.

The Stanford School of Medicine recently launched an interactive learning program that integrates online course materials with immersive classroom sessions. Students watch videotaped lectures prior to attending class, allowing them to study the material at their own pace and review areas of difficulty. They enter the classroom prepared to practice what they’ve learned through active discussions, team-based problem solving, and interactions with real patients. This combined teaching method brings medical educators closer to filling the gap between students’ book-learning and its applications in a clinical setting.

Other schools, such as the Ohio State College of Medicine, offer online courses as an alternative to classroom learning for the first two years. Students can choose to follow an “integrated path,” which involves lectures and small group sessions, or an independent study path, in which students learn on their own using computer-based materials.

Taking preclinical courses online can be beneficial for students who prefer to study on their own schedules or at their own pace. However, those who choose this route must be highly self-motivated, and they will not have many opportunities to work directly with their peers.

Furthermore, in a health care system that is increasingly concerned with patient satisfaction, schools are expanding their curricula to train physicians in communication and the social aspects of medical care. These types of courses are not well-suited for online instruction. Today’s medical students may use more online materials to enhance classroom learning, but sometimes there simply is no substitute for human interaction.

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