There is a discrepancy between the research exploring e-learning at medical universities in Central/Eastern and Western European countries. The aim of the MeSPeLA study was to explore the understanding, experience and expectations of Polish medical students in terms of e-learning. Questionnaire containing open-ended and closed questions supplemented by focus group discussion was validated and performed among 204 medical students in Poland before COVID-19 pandemia. Several domains: understanding of e-learning definitions; students' experience, preferences, expectations and perceptions of e-learning usefulness, advantages and disadvantages were addressed. The qualitative data were analyzed using an inductive approach. 46.0% of students chose a communication-oriented definition as the most appropriate. 7.4% claimed not to have any experience with e-learning. 76.8% of respondents indicated they had contact with e-learning. The main reported e-learning advantages were time saving and easier time management. The most common drawback was limited social interactions. The acceptance of the usage of e-learning was high. Medical undergraduates in Poland regardless of the year of studies, gender or choice of future specialization showed positive attitudes towards e-learning. Students with advanced IT skills showed a better understanding of the e-learning definition and perceived e-learning to be a more useful approach. The expectations and perceptions about e-learning in Polish medical schools seems similar to some extent to that in Western European and the United States so we can be more confident about applying some lessons from these research to Poland or other post-communist countries. Such application has been accelerated due to COVID-19 pandemia.
Keywords: e-learning; medical education; online learning; virtual learning environment.