Health Professions Post-Degree Education Moves Deeper Online

The Khan Academy, which dominates K-12 test prep education with high-quality free content, is moving into professional test preparation with the launch of a set of lessons for future nurses.   In this case the Khan Academy’s signature video tutorials (voice over hand drawn graphics) were produced in collaboration with the Jonas Center and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The material available online includes 158 sample questions from the national licensing exam for nurses.

In many professions and occupations, there are three major segments of the post-degree education industry: 1) preparing for registration or certification exam; 2) continuing education required to maintain certification or registration; and 3) learning to augment or expand professional competence.

Sometimes the learning even overlaps, serving multiple purposes.

Online educational technologies — fielded by professional associations, non-profit colleges and universities, and for-profit companies — already have made significant inroads in all three segments.   For example, you can get online test prep for the architect registration exam from the Funkaar Institute, earn required continuing medical education credits online from Radiology Society of North America, or turn to Udacity for an online nanodegree if you want to develop the iOs application designer skills to get a job with AT&T.

Online post-degree education is particularly important in the health fields as professionals are increasingly shifting away from participation in conferences and seminars and toward online programs.  A 2012 survey found that 97% of clinicians were planning to either increase or maintain their participation in online continuing education programs during the next year.

This is much needed.  According to an Institute of Medicine study, a disorganized and fragmented system of continuing education providing offerings of varying quality plays a big role in the fact that the professional health workforce in the United States is not consistently prepared to provide high quality health care or assure patient safety.  Today, health professions continuing education is delivered by a patchwork of providers in many different formats, sponsored by hospitals, medical and other health professions schools, managed care organizations and professional societies, and often funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

New technologies and forms of knowledge organization provide a unique opportunity to improve post-degree education, to reach new users, and to allow providers to develop content-based brand and visibility.  A wealth of content already exists in not-for-profit health universities, professional societies, and for-profit training companies.   The online challenge in health professional education is to augment and convert content into new formats to draw users and enhance outcomes such that the health care workforce is consistently prepared to provide high quality health care and assure patient safety.