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Virtual paediatrics: what COVID-19 has taught us about online learning
  1. Rebecca Johnston1,2,
  2. Camilla Sen1,3,
  3. Yasmin Baki1,2,3
  1. 1 Medical School, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Paediatric department, Whittington Hospital, London, UK
  3. 3 Paediatrics, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rebecca Johnston, Medical School, University College London, London, London, UK; becky.johnston{at}

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What is online learning?

Online learning, unlike traditional learning from face-to-face lectures, tutorials, ward rounds and private study of published materials, involves the use of internet-based technology to deliver educational content. Terms such as online learning, e-learning, web-based learning and distant learning are often used synonymously without clear distinction.1 Online learning can stand alone or be part of a blended model in which online content supplements face-to-face interactions. Content can be delivered synchronously (live video conferencing and chat rooms) or asynchronously (prerecorded lectures, podcasts, blogs and forums) with considerable variation in interactive and responsive content.

How effective is online learning?

There are many studies which evaluate approaches to online learning, but their heterogeneity makes direct comparisons challenging. There is evidence of equivalent gains in knowledge and skills acquisition online compared with face-to-face teaching.2 3 Further analysis suggests blended approaches result in even better learning outcomes.3 4 Course design, learner motivation and comfort with online technology are reported determinants of success.5

Collaborative learning, in which group interaction is enhanced, is more effective than independent approaches.6 7 Learning collaboratively online can increase the quantity and quality of reflective discussions compared with face-to-face environments. Furthermore enhanced interaction is associated with improved test performance and student satisfaction.8

Social presence, the projection of a participant’s true self online, is particularly important to establish meaningful connections and an online community.5 7 9 Failure to establish this can reduce interactions, leading to students feeling isolated and stressed, with increased dropout rates and poor academic performance.7 10 11

How has the pandemic impacted the use of online learning?

Online learning prior to the pandemic boasted carefully planned content underpinned by educational theory, but was hampered by lack of incentive, skills …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.