Online learning developments in undergraduate medical education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: A BEME systematic review: BEME Guide No. 69

Stojan, Jennifer, Haas, Mary, Thammastiboon, Satid, Lander, Lina, Evans, Sean, Pawlik, Cameron, Pawilkowska, Teresa, Lew, Madelyn, Gordon, Morris orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-1216-5158 et al (2022) Online learning developments in undergraduate medical education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: A BEME systematic review: BEME Guide No. 69. Medical Teacher, 44 (2). pp. 109-129. ISSN 0142-159X

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The COVID-19 pandemic spurred an abrupt transition away from in-person educational activities. This systematic review investigated the pivot to online learning for nonclinical undergraduate medical education (UGME) activities and explored descriptions of educational offerings deployed, their impact, and lessons learned.

The authors systematically searched four online databases and conducted a manual electronic search of MedEdPublish up to December 21, 2020. Two authors independently screened titles, abstracts and full texts, performed data extraction and assessed risk of bias. A third author resolved discrepancies. Findings were reported in accordance with the STORIES (STructured apprOach to the Reporting in healthcare education of Evidence Synthesis) statement and BEME guidance.

Fifty-six articles were included. The majority (n = 41) described the rapid transition of existing offerings to online formats, whereas fewer (n = 15) described novel activities. The majority (n = 27) included a combination of synchronous and asynchronous components. Didactics (n = 40) and small groups (n = 26) were the most common instructional methods. Teachers largely integrated technology to replace and amplify rather than transform learning, though learner engagement was often interactive. Thematic analysis revealed unique challenges of online learning, as well as exemplary practices. The quality of study designs and reporting was modest, with underpinning theory at highest risk of bias. Virtually all studies (n = 54) assessed reaction/satisfaction, fewer than half (n = 23) assessed changes in attitudes, knowledge or skills, and none assessed behavioral, organizational or patient outcomes.

UGME educators successfully transitioned face-to-face instructional methods online and implemented novel solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although technology’s potential to transform teaching is not yet fully realized, the use of synchronous and asynchronous formats encouraged virtual engagement, while offering flexible, self-directed learning. As we transition from emergency remote learning to a post-pandemic world, educators must underpin new developments with theory, report additional outcomes and provide details that support replication.

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