Does E-learning Improve Plastic Surgery Education?: A Systematic Review of Asynchronous Resources

Ann Plast Surg. 2021 Jul 1;87(1s Suppl 1):S40-S51. doi: 10.1097/SAP.0000000000002806.


Purpose: E-learning is rapidly growing in medical education, overcoming physical, geographic, and time-related barriers to students. This article critically evaluates the existing research on e-learning in plastic surgery.

Methods: A systematic review of e-learning in plastic surgery was conducted using the PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, and Embase databases. Studies were limited to those written in English and published after 1995 and excluded short communications, letters to the editor, and articles focused on in-person simulation.

Results: A total of 23 articles were identified. Represented subspecialties include breast, burns, craniofacial/pediatrics, hand, and microsurgery. Most e-learning resources target surgeons and trainees, but a small number are for patients, parents, and referring physicians. Users reported high levels of satisfaction with e-learning and significant gains in knowledge after completion, although there may be more variable satisfaction with teaching technical skills. Two studies showed no differences in knowledge gains from e-learning compared with traditional learning methods. Subgroup analysis showed greater benefit of e-learning for novice learners when evaluated. Surveys of plastic surgeons and trainees showed high interest in and growing utilization of e-learning.

Conclusions: Research in plastic surgery e-learning shows high user satisfaction and overall improvements in learning outcomes with knowledge gains equivalent to traditional teaching methods and greater benefit in novice learners. Thus, e-learning can serve an important role in plastic surgery education, especially in the current state of social distancing. Future work should aim to define learner preferences and educational needs and better establish how e-learning can augment plastic surgical education, particularly among other teaching methods.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Clinical Competence
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction*
  • Education, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Surgery, Plastic*