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Online training…has it changed us?
  • Jul 21, 2021
  • Latest Journal

What a year it’s been!  In early 2020 Inspire Medilaw was awarded accreditation from the Royal College of Surgeons (England) for our medical Expert Witness Training programme, and exciting new training development was underway to diversify the CPD content on offer to our delegates.

Our medico-legal training has always been event based, to encourage peer learning and discussion, and to facilitate the development of relationships across the medico-legal sector.  Face to face training courses took place in Oxford, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Bristol, Exeter…

Our March 2020 Expert Witness training course in Oxford took place over two days as usual, but the mood was a little different.  Heeding public health advice, the conference room windows were open, hand sanitiser was readily available, and there was no hand-shaking when people greeted one another.  

And suddenly, a few days after the course, national lockdown was announced, and Inspire’s upcoming events were cancelled.  With time saved on travel, the team’s focus shifted to devising and creating online content as a priority, and we have supported medico-legal practitioners in this way ever since, with a handful of in-person events taking place when restrictions permit.

What’s the verdict on online training?  Will it replace face-to-face events?

As a starting point, don’t forget online training wasn’t invented when lockdown happened!  There have been live and pre-recorded webinars available for CPD for many years, and online learning has been on the increase in professional workplaces for some time. What has changed is that the range and quality of online training has improved hugely over the past year and, as we’ve adjusted to different styles of working, online training provision has come into its own.  You’ll have already heard the usual benefits: you can attend a training session anywhere in the world from the comfort of your own home and fit your training around your existing personal and professional commitments.  Brushing up on your skills and acquiring knowledge has never been so convenient!

I really enjoyed the course and did not feel it was less worthy for being online. The content was excellent and it has given me confidence in my fledgling medico legal practice.
Mr Robert Mason, Consultant Urologist

There are wider benefits too. The person or organisation paying for the training will save money, not only on the cost of attendance at the event, as most online training is less expensive, but also on travel, accommodation and sustenance costs.  The logical extension of less travel is the positive impact on the environment – a reduced carbon footprint for the individual and organisation.  

It is unusual to attend a training course that is pitched just right for every delegate present for the duration of the event.  Some will already know elements of the training, others will struggle to keep up with new concepts or ideas.  Online training available as a multi-access recording is a winner on this front, enabling the delegate to really focus on the areas they need to consolidate.  They can listen or watch again as often as they need, and take the time to do additional research to ensure they understand.

I booked the Inspire MediLaw training course in report writing in order to improve my understanding of the law and my responsibilities in preparing medico-legal reports.
The online nature of the course allowed me to fit the modules in around my clinical practice and other commitments and gave me the opportunity to consider the topics in detail before moving forward.  The course is a great opportunity to learn from experienced members of the legal and medical profession about the theory and practice of medico-legal work.

Mr Nick Peterson, Consultant Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Online training needs to be available in manageable blocks or modules.  An all-day conference in person is enhanced as delegates move from session to session, meet their contemporaries, and step outside for some fresh air!  

Sitting in front of a screen all day is quite another matter and makes it difficult to stay engaged, so accessing seminars or keynotes from an online conference as standalone content means the delegate benefits from the training they really need – and keeps costs down too.  When planning modular training it helps to have a common theme or case study running through the modules.  This encourages the viewer to engage with the concepts and really get to grips with how they relate to an increasingly familiar situation.

I really enjoyed the modules and found it to be very interactive taking the same case through from report writing to trial with simulated meeting of experts and conference with counsel.  I found the speakers very good and their expertise in the field was very evident making my understanding of the more complex legal bits easier than I had thought it would be!
Dr Gavin Tunnard, Consultant in Emergency Medicine

The flip side of delegates saving cost is, of course, the financial impact on your training providers.  They must still shoulder the costs of their online platform, fees for speakers/trainers, staff salaries, accreditation or programme related fees, and the time and cost of devising and producing new content to provide for their market – you!

High quality training providers want to engage with their delegates to better understand their ongoing training needs.  This is how they plan new, and improve existing, training courses.  At a venue-based event, it is much easier to do this.  Casual conversations are the order of the day, and a good events team get a feeling for how the training was received before the formal feedback is even written.  Gauging a delegate response is harder with online courses, and especially in relation to pre-recorded content.  Requesting online feedback is one way to collate this although, at Inspire MediLaw, we are glad when our online delegates email or call us to share their feedback, as this interaction is invaluable in building relationships and helping us tailor future provision.   

It must also be acknowledged that live online training is liable to attract technical difficulties!  This can happen to the delegate or the provider, and it is always stressful for the individuals attempting to resolve the problem.  The provider must identify and sort the issue remotely, while the delegate feels frustrated at being unable to access the content or attend the event they have paid for.  At least when travel to an event is required, it is easier to blame the trains or the traffic for delayed arrival!  

We recommend that delegates work through our joining instructions at least 24 hours before joining an online event, and contact us at that stage with any concerns or challenges.  This helps prevent a rush of queries coming in 5 minutes before the opening of a live online event!  It goes without saying that, where connection or delivery issues arise with live online events, it can leave a poor impression of the training – regardless of where the problem actually lies.

However, without in-person training, conferences or seminars taking place, it remains challenging to gain access to an informal forum for peer to peer learning.  A benefit of attending events is the opportunity for delegates to chat over a cuppa or in a meal break; to share experiences in their small groups; to engage the speaker or trainer in conversation in a quiet moment.  This is how relationships are built; it is when the quieter delegates seize the opportunity to ask their questions; and it is an important factor in building long term relationships between the training provider and the delegate.  Atmosphere (& refreshment!) matters!

Training providers have been forced to adapt, despite the challenges

There’s no two ways about it.  The pandemic has changed the provision of training worldwide, and we are much more used to entering a Zoom room than a conference hall these days.  Knowledge sharing has increased as conference providers make their content widely available, and delegates are able to tailor their learning to their specific needs by choosing exactly the content they require from a much wider range of events.

Training providers have come up with innovative ways to engage their delegates, and ensure they are getting the most out of their learning journey.  For example, Inspire MediLaw have held online panel discussions about consent in medical practice, setting the scene for in-person workshops with leading medico-legal practitioners later this year.

A number of our modular medico-legal training courses conclude with a one-to-one session with a member of our training faculty.  This enables delegates to combine the convenience of tuition on demand with the opportunity to talk through the set tasks and ask further questions at a time which suits them.

“I found the online Zoom consultation to review my report writing particularly useful.”

“The session at the end with Isabel was very useful and she gave me about 40 minutes of her time which was great. Thanks again.”

“The option to get face to face feedback on my report was hugely beneficial, along with the ability to 'ask an expert' on other practicalities around becoming a medicolegal expert.”

Will training providers abandon the venue-based events?

It’s a definite no from Inspire MediLaw, encouraged by feedback from our December 2020 Annual Conference delegates!

“This was my first Inspire MediLaw conference but I'm sure it won't be my last. It's great to network with colleagues doing similar work, to be able to discuss issues pertinent to newbies and the experienced alike. There is a culture of sharing and encouraging development of capability.”

“A superbly run conference with an inspiring collection of speakers, covering interesting and relevant topics. Certainly worth the attendance!”

As long as the interpersonal element of work and learning matters, venue based events will still be a key part of our training provision.  We want to build a community for lawyers and medical experts so that they can share their skills, knowledge and perspectives.  Meeting in person is a really important factor in growing this community.

We have, however, learnt that embracing online training brings huge benefits for our delegates, and this cannot be ignored as times change again.  It removes the limitations of location for our speakers and our delegates.  This enables us to reach a wider audience with our core training, and encourages professionals from other jurisdictions to get involved in our work.  We are delighted to provide our medico-legal community with an online resource of webinars and tuition which they can either use as a point of reference, or as part of a structured programme to enhance their professional development.

I would recommend the online course wholeheartedly to busy clinicians who wish to develop their portfolios as expert witnesses in the next stage of their consultant career progression.
The course broadens the mind, helps sharpen critical thinking, improves clinical acumen and helps you analyse complex information to arrive at balanced judgements.
I can honestly say that it has improved my clinical practice that extra step further.

Dr Hari Subramaniam, Consultant Psychiatrist for the Elderly