Second Life and medical education: new study

The Journal of Medical Internet Research has published a study on the outcomes of a a pilot postgraduate medical education program at the Boston University School of Medicine presence in Second Life.

You can read the full paper here, but the synopsis of the study is:

1. Fourteen physicians participated in the pilot, with twelve providing feedback.

2. The learning exercise was related to Type 2 diabetes, with participants surveyed on any change in confidence and performance, as well as attitudes toward the virtual learning environment itself.

3. Confidence increased after the Second Life event, in respect to selecting insulin for patients with type 2 diabetes, initiating insulin and adjusting insulin dosing.

4. There was an increase to 90% (from 60%) of participants initiating correct insulin dosages.

5. The percentage of participants who provided correct initiation of mealtime insulin increased from 40% to 80%.

6. All twelve participants surveyed agreed that their experience in Second Life was an effective method of medical education.

7. All twelve also agreed that “the virtual world approach to CME was superior to other methods of online CME, that they would enroll in another such event in SL, and that they would recommend that their colleagues participate in an SL CME course.”

8. Two of the twelve disagreed with the statement that Second Life provided a superior to face-to-face option for continuing medical education.

The take-home message? Nothing new really: virtual environments can be very useful for education. The small sample size is obviously worth noting. Additionally, I remain amazed at the positive feedback garnered for education sessions held in Second Life given the rudimentary aspects of the platform itself i.e. the need to type responses in chat and viewing what’s essentially a Powerpoint presentation (as shown in the picture above). That’s not to take away from the work the University of Boston have done, it’s just one key aspect for future studies: how much of the positive feedback on virtual environments is the ‘wow’ factor experienced by newer users versus the well-established data on immersion and its benefits?

Another key point for me was this:

Our search of English language peer-reviewed publication databases did not identify any formal evaluation of the educational effectiveness of health professional training in SL or other virtual worlds.

Studies like this one are helping to address that gap, but there’s plenty more to be done. What’s fairly certain is that work is underway and within 12-18 months there’s likely to be a significant body of work pointing out the opportunities and challenges virtual worlds present for health-related training and education.