A survey of nearly 5,000 medical students in Egypt who used online education during the coronavirus pandemic found that most of them liked the flexibility of online learning but still preferred traditional face-to-face teaching.
The survey was conducted late last summer, after Egyptian medical students, like those all over the world, had been using distance learning for more than a year because of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey sought students’ views about the experience in part to inform efforts to improve online medical education.
The researchers described their findings in a study published in March in the journal BMC Medical Education under the title: “Online Medical Education in Egypt during the Covid-19 Pandemic: a Nationwide Assessment of Medical Students’ Usage and Perceptions.”
Nearly 5,000 Responses
“Institutions should learn from the lessons of the Covid-19 lockdown how to make education more efficient and effective while maintaining the quality of physician training so as not to put society at risk.”From the new study
Ten researchers with affiliations in public and private medical schools in Egypt, the United States and Afghanistan collaborated in the study, along with 23 members of the Egyptian Medical Education Collaborative Group (EGY MedEd).
The study included an opinion poll that was distributed to students in 26 medical schools across Egypt and received 4,935 responses. The study estimates there are a total of 70,000 students studying medicine in Egypt, which has 31 colleges of medicine, according to the World Directory of Medical Schools.
Mohamed Mortagy, a professor at the School of Medicine at Newgiza University and the study’s lead researcher, said the research aimed to explore the effectiveness of different e-learning methods and to review the opportunities and difficulties that students faced in studying via the Internet.
The students who participated responded to questions on an online survey on Google Forms. The students were asked about their experiences with online medical education, as well as their anxiety, perceived academic performance, and any obstacles they encountered.
A Mix of Positive and Negative Views
The results showed that the majority of students (64.6 percent) thought online education was better than face-to-face education, but more than half (54.6 percent) said online education was not as effective as face-to-face education, and only 43.7 percent said they enjoyed online medical education.
Fifty-one percent said they preferred the traditional way of learning, while 44 percent said that their professors “were not well prepared for online education.”
Forty-five percent of the respondents said they had encountered Internet-related problems, such as connection or speed issues, and over half wanted online sessions to be more interactive.
Among other negative experiences, 35 percent said online medical education was not motivating, 37 percent said they had difficulty participating in online sessions, and 41 percent felt they were not able to ask questions freely in remote study sessions.
However, 63 percent of students agreed that video lessons recorded online (on YouTube) were the most effective form of online medical education.
To make online medical education more effective, the study recommended training faculty members to deliver online sessions in an interesting way, upgrading schools’ learning technology, and taking students’ suggestions into account.
Asked about the benefits of learning from home, participants said it was more comfortable and avoided transportation costs. They also liked the flexibility of asynchronous course elements, like pre-recorded videos and lectures, that could be done at their own pace and time.
Still, many did not endorse distance learning as an alternative to face-to-face teaching—a position the study described as a “paradox [that] may reflect the barriers inherent in online learning.”
In a discussion of future directions of online teaching, the study said: “Because medicine is an intensely interpersonal field, requiring advanced skill and the ability to work in teams as well as with patients, a pure online approach may not be appropriate.”
It added: “Institutions should learn from the lessons of the Covid-19 lockdown how to make education more efficient and effective while maintaining the quality of physician training so as not to put society at risk.”
To make online medical education more effective, the study recommended training faculty members to deliver live and recorded online sessions in an interesting way. It also called for upgrading medical schools’ technology for online learning and taking into account students’ suggestions about how to improve their experience.
Ashraf El Hawary, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Sohag University, welcomed the new study. He regards online education as a promising experiment, though there have been only “relatively small trials” so far.
The new study, he said, “draws attention to the need to have an infrastructure qualified for use in the event of pandemic-like conditions.”
Mahmoud Abdel-Rasheed, a third-year student at the Faculty of Medicine at Minia University, said many students had trouble getting a computer to join lectures online, while the cost of Internet packages put financial burdens on families.
Hazem Samir agreed, saying that he preferred traditional teaching methods because being among patients in university hospitals was indispensable and not possible in remote lectures.