Over the last two years, COVID-19 and extreme weather-related events have served a double blow to millions of people across the globe. These adverse events have disrupted health care systems and had a massive impact on education delivery. This situation has challenged us to think innovatively about adapting our education programs to maximize learning opportunities while maintaining effective care delivery. The following 10 tips offer guidance on meeting challenges in education programs—whether in your own hospital system or in the AO—within the constraints of the disrupted times we live in.
It is important to recognize the impact that a disruption of this magnitude has on our education programs; these disruptions can include a lack of personal connection, difficulty in maintaining hands-on surgical skills training, and fatigue linked to online education. Be flexible and supportive and keep in touch with learners/faculty to help address anxiety related to uncertainty, lack of control, overwork, and social isolation. Additionally, burdens related to changed clinical responsibilities could impact the time available for and prioritization of education.
Optimize available education experiences wherever you can. The best way to start is to itemize the formats likely to provide safe and impactful learning; these formats can be adapted to the disruptive situation. For example, expand an existing mentorship program to tele-mentoring; build on hospital-based offerings, grand rounds, study clubs, etc, and share relevant resources with a larger audience in the online setting. Where learning outcomes cannot be transferred into available formats, look for ways to replace them in the short term.
Be open to innovative ways to maximize opportunities to teach to required competencies. Surgical skills acquisition can be achieved to a certain extent with simulation and virtual reality technologies. In these times when procedures that learners are exposed to might be reduced in number, you might give more focus to teaching and assessment of collaboration, communication, professionalism, leadership, and navigating medicolegal issues.
Promote successful, live, online education by providing a safe and supportive environment where learners do not feel intimidated. Use cameras and first names for introductions, guide learners through discussions without being too prescriptive, be inclusive and culturally sensitive, and recognize opinions and contributions. Respond to questions adequately, either during the online session or in a follow-up soon afterward. Ensure that summaries draw together common themes and give timely, ongoing feedback on assignments.
Physical distancing has a significant negative impact on informal learning and a sense of community. Look to successful models of virtual communities of practice for inspiration in order to foster connection and learning.
In the face of the current substantial disruption, individualized learning plans and longitudinal coaching are of ever-higher value. The core features of a coaching relationship include a shared orientation toward growth and development, ongoing reflection, and the acceptance of failures/problems as catalysts for learning. Engaging with a coach (virtually or in person) to generate an effective individualized learning plan can help learners focus their efforts.
During disruptive situations like the pandemic, assessment processes can be challenging and can get left by the wayside. But it is important to provide leaners with essential feedback so they can recognize and address their gaps. It may be necessary to adjust how and where assessments are used, such as identifying opportunities to provide detailed and multisource feedback rather than typical formats such as multiple-choice questions.
Share learning resources, expertise, and ideas, and foster relationships and partnerships—which will enrich both the variety and quality of your education—between individuals (eg, faculty peers, interdisciplinary team members, allied professions), to societies, or to university hospitals in your system or country.
The pandemic has to some extent blurred the lines between local and global. Hybrid events—combining on-site and online participants and faculty—can be used to high effect (eg, by connecting an internationally renowned faculty from the AO network with a local or hospital-based seminar or study group). High-quality, wholly online events present the opportunity to bring together specialists on a global scale and a unique chance for learners to tap into this expertise for relatively little cost—even if they have to get up in the middle of the night to profit from the experience.
It is important that we prepare for the post-pandemic period of academic and clinical catch-up with a good plan to support learners who may have missed key elements of their learning. We must also anticipate longer-term impacts and find innovative ways to maintain learning while balancing demands. The "new normal" will be a different world and we should not miss the opportunity to recognize some of the changes as progress, such as to continuing to innovate how we deliver learning for effectiveness and efficiency and keeping our participants engaged.