The authors provide an introduction to e-learning and its role in medical education by outlining key terms, the components of e-learning, the evidence for its effectiveness, faculty development needs for implementation, evaluation strategies for e-learning and its technology, and how e-learning might be considered evidence of academic scholarship.
E-learning is the use of Internet technologies to enhance knowledge and performance. E-learning technologies offer learners control over content, learning sequence, pace of learning, time, and often media, allowing them to tailor their experiences to meet their personal learning objectives. In diverse medical education contexts, e-learning appears to be at least as effective as traditional instructor-led methods such as lectures. Students do not see e-learning as replacing traditional instructor-led training but as a complement to it, forming part of a blended-learning strategy. A developing infrastructure to support e-learning within medical education includes repositories, or digital libraries, to manage access to e-learning materials, consensus on technical standardization, and methods for peer review of these resources. E-learning presents numerous research opportunities for faculty, along with continuing challenges for documenting scholarship. Innovations in e-learning technologies point toward a revolution in education, allowing learning to be individualized (adaptive learning), enhancing learners’ interactions with others (collaborative learning), and transforming the role of the teacher. The integration of e-learning into medical education can catalyze the shift toward applying adult learning theory, where educators will no longer serve mainly as the distributors of content, but will become more involved as facilitators of learning and assessors of competency.