BACKGROUND: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to far-reaching restrictions of social and professional life, affecting societies all over the world. To contain the virus, medical schools had to restructure their curriculum by switching to online learning. However, only few medical schools had implemented such novel learning concepts. We aimed to evaluate students’ attitudes to online learning to provide a broad scientific basis to guide future development of medical education.
METHODS: Overall, 3286 medical students from 12 different countries participated in this cross-sectional, web-based study investigating various aspects of online learning in medical education. On a 7-point Likert scale, participants rated the online learning situation during the pandemic at their medical schools, technical and social aspects, and the current and future role of online learning in medical education.
RESULTS: The majority of medical schools managed the rapid switch to online learning (78%) and most students were satisfied with the quantity (67%) and quality (62%) of the courses. Online learning provided greater flexibility (84%) and led to unchanged or even higher attendance of courses (70%). Possible downsides included motivational problems (42%), insufficient possibilities for interaction with fellow students (67%) and thus the risk of social isolation (64%). The vast majority felt comfortable using the software solutions (80%). Most were convinced that medical education lags behind current capabilities regarding online learning (78%) and estimated the proportion of online learning before the pandemic at only 14%. In order to improve the current curriculum, they wish for a more balanced ratio with at least 40% of online teaching compared to on-site teaching.
CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates the positive attitude of medical students towards online learning. Furthermore, it reveals a considerable discrepancy between what students demand and what the curriculum offers. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic might be the long-awaited catalyst for a new “online era” in medical education.