Democratising medical education: breaking down the barriers to learning

At the beginning of my fellowship...

In a joint project with Health Education England and the Royal College of Pathologists, the aim of this project was to create a future-proof digital learning platform to help train the next generation of pathologists and enhance the workforce provision for the changing demands of pathology interpretation.

My aims were threefold:

  1. to scope out current provisions of digital learning solutions across all industries to identify evidence-based best practice
  2. to develop a blueprint of the platform with creation of wireframes and ensure sufficient capacity in the plans for additional element integration with adaptive learning and machine learning to enhance the learner experience
  3. to engage with procurement processes and to work alongside developers and be part of the delivery team of the project.

During my fellowship...

In addressing my first aim, I began by completing research on existing learning technologies from industrial leaders in education, noting the great advances in educational technology in the US for secondary school equivalent school children and some solutions provided by universities excelling in digital learning provision who had already successfully integrated adaptive learning elements and machine learning to enhance both the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning process.

As regards the machine learning elements, I realised that specific to pathology, the ability to identify the basis for an incorrect interpretation of an image can be enhanced by highlighting an unexplored or unappreciated element of the slide with machine learning. Furthermore, the success of adaptive learning in tailoring content delivery to students has been proven to be an effective solution in enhancing learner efficiency and motivation. Adaptive learning has also represented a successful tool in assessment and has been used to good effect in some postgraduate management level examinations across the world, such as in the GMAT examination.

The lessons learned from the first aim helped my second aim of devising a strategy for what elements would be key to integrate. The identification of evidence-based best practice needed to be adapted to the needs of the learners and the teachers. I then worked alongside both the Clinical Director for the project and the President of the Royal College of Pathologists alongside multiple other stakeholders to help identify the challenges and opportunities that existed within the current system. Given the nature of the project and the breadth of experience within HEE, I also worked alongside in-house developers and coders to help better understand the nature of digital challenges faced. This helped create the project overview and recognising the opportunity for external collaboration, the project was put out to tender.

It was through this tendering and procurement process where I learned about the Government Digital Service Design Principles and I used them to critically appraise and evaluate potential collaborators and contractors. Following the appointment of a contractor, we commenced working through both discovery and alpha development using the agile project management methodology. After completion of the alpha prototype we have just completed a further round of procurement and have embarked on beta development of the platform.

Naturally the COVID-19 pandemic presented some challenges in undertaking this project, both from a practical perspective where meetings were held remotely and from a clinical perspective, with redeployments and the changing clinical environment which I work in. However, the challenges also presented a new array of solutions and enabled me to collaborate using a range of different web platforms for project management tools, conferencing and prototyping software.

Lessons learned:

Throughout this the three key things I have learned are:

  • the incredible advances within education that exist across the world
  • the great opportunity and exciting nature of digital innovation to enhance learning within Pathology, and
  • I have also developed a toolkit of project management adhering to GDS principles and working using agile methodology.