Background: In the face of severe faculty shortages in resource-constrained countries, medical schools look to e-learning for improved access to medical education. This paper summarizes the literature on e-learning in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), and presents the spectrum of tools and strategies used.
Methods: Researchers reviewed literature using terms related to e-learning and pre-service education of health professionals in LMIC. Search terms were connected using the Boolean Operators "AND" and "OR" to capture all relevant article suggestions. Using standard decision criteria, reviewers narrowed the article suggestions to a final 124 relevant articles.
Results: Of the relevant articles found, most referred to e-learning in Brazil (14 articles), India (14), Egypt (10) and South Africa (10). While e-learning has been used by a variety of health workers in LMICs, the majority (58%) reported on physician training, while 24% focused on nursing, pharmacy and dentistry training. Although reasons for investing in e-learning varied, expanded access to education was at the core of e-learning implementation which included providing supplementary tools to support faculty in their teaching, expanding the pool of faculty by connecting to partner and/or community teaching sites, and sharing of digital resources for use by students. E-learning in medical education takes many forms. Blended learning approaches were the most common methodology presented (49 articles) of which computer-assisted learning (CAL) comprised the majority (45 articles). Other approaches included simulations and the use of multimedia software (20 articles), web-based learning (14 articles), and eTutor/eMentor programs (3 articles). Of the 69 articles that evaluated the effectiveness of e-learning tools, 35 studies compared outcomes between e-learning and other approaches, while 34 studies qualitatively analyzed student and faculty attitudes toward e-learning modalities.
Conclusions: E-learning in medical education is a means to an end, rather than the end in itself. Utilizing e-learning can result in greater educational opportunities for students while simultaneously enhancing faculty effectiveness and efficiency. However, this potential of e-learning assumes a certain level of institutional readiness in human and infrastructural resources that is not always present in LMICs. Institutional readiness for e-learning adoption ensures the alignment of new tools to the educational and economic context.