Microlearning during the pandemic


From theory to application

Microlearning allows for faster delivery of information – fewer things to write means shorter course distribution times, allowing the learner to respond faster to changing educational goals and training demands. Microlearning is flexible – “micro-courses” can give a broad overview of a subject or cover complex topics broken down into simple parts. In addition, micro-learning promotes retention of key concepts – given the length of each lesson, repetition of the topic by the learner is possible at any point in time. The whole experience is similar to checking your favorite social media application on your smartphone.

Dr. J. Henry Feng

Certainly, many examples of the application of microlearning are available in the health care sector – pharmaceutical and nursing training both have utilized the theory extensively.3-4 However, in many instances, individuals were still required to sit at a workstation to complete modules and lessons. We envisioned our application of microlearning to be “on-the-go,” without necessarily requiring a computer workstation or laptop to complete.

In thinking about how social media attracts and influences clinicians, many content creators on social media come to mind. In addition, most, if not all, have branched into various social media platforms – podcasting, blogging, YouTube, for example. In thinking about our colleagues and trainees, we wanted a platform that they could take on the go, without the need to focus their visual attention (such as while driving or running). Ultimately, we believe the podcast would be the best platform to disseminate our information.

Podcasting is not foreign to medicine. A variety of medical podcasts exist, whether produced by major medical journals or by various independent health care practitioners. Both, however, have their drawbacks – the podcasts created by major medical journals are typically a summary of the publication’s content and are less engaging. Alternatively, podcasts produced by independent creators are certainly engaging and entertaining, and have a wealth of information, but the line is often blurred between just that: education and entertainment. In both instances, there is no follow-up or feedback offered to the learner in the form of surveys, or other types of feedback, which is arguably an important piece in any form of pedagogy. Thus, we sought to strike a balance between the two forms for our purposes.

Process of two podcasts

Our section was aware of the two aims during the pandemic – (1) disseminate new information regarding COVID-19 to the rest of our staff members and trainees as quickly as possible, and (2) maintain and improve the current quality of care of our patients. Thus, we sought to apply the reach and efficiency of the podcasting medium to provide ongoing education and feedback with respect to these two aims.

“The Cure” podcast. We recognized the constant flow of new COVID-19 information and updates and we wanted to find a readily accessible platform to reach staff with timely updates. Our marketing & communications team later helped us realize that the content we wanted to share was relevant to our patients and the community, so we formatted the material to be practical and easily digestible- something that may help an individual make decisions at the bedside as well as have conversations at the dinner table. Most recently, we engaged with our human resources department to use our platform in orienting new hires with the goal of helping staff familiarize with the institutions policies, procedures, and job aids that keep staff and patients safe.

“Antibiotry” podcast. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our antibiotic stewardship group noticed an increase in antibiotic use on our medical floors. This is monitored not only through internal metrics by our pharmacy department, but also via the SAAR (standardized antibiotic administration ratio). Both sources demonstrated an increase in antibiotic use, greater than expected. An initiative was formed between our hospital medicine and infectious disease sections, and our pharmacy department to raise awareness of this increase in use, provide education to our trainees, and to create systems solutions for clinicians.

Initially, we sought to hold in-person sessions once a month for our trainees. This was led by a senior resident at the time. Topics of discussion were geared towards clinical decision making regarding empiric antibiotic use on the hospital medicine service. At the same time, our team published empiric antibiotic use guidelines, accessible through our electronic medical record. In addition, the resident leader gave a voluntary survey at the end of the session to assess not only confidence of antibiotic use, but also baseline knowledge regarding antibiotics in various clinical scenarios. This survey was repeated at the end of the resident group’s month-long rotation. Altogether, each in-person session was no longer than 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, the initiative was just gaining momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. However, we sought to take this challenge and translate it into an opportunity.

We directed our focus towards stewardship during pandemic times. Initially, our resident leader sent out email primers, approximately 3-5 minute reads, as a substitute for the in-person sessions. Our primers’ uniqueness was in its incorporation of prescription pattern data that was developed by our resident leader and our initiative’s data analyst. In doing so, we provided professional feedback regarding our antibiotic use based on the clinical indication. This was a powerful tool to not only engage our learners and staff clinicians, but also as a benchmarking tool for continued quality improvement.

But email primers are not engaging, and despite the ubiquity of teleconferencing, it was difficult to ask our housestaff to break from their morning rounds for a 10 minute tele-meeting. Thus, we devised a podcast method of education – 5-10 minute audio clips with conversation regarding a topic of discussion. This way, our trainees and learners can access episodes of education on their own time throughout the pandemic without disrupting their workflow. Given the brevity of, but high-yield content in, each episode, it would not only be convenient for listeners to access and repeat, but also for the podcaster (our resident leader) to create, as recording of the audio portion takes anywhere between 10-20 minutes for each episode, with postprocessing similarly fast.

The interdisciplinary nature of continued medical education cannot be stressed enough. With the help of our professional development team and their educators, we were able to centralize our podcast and attach surveys and additional graphics for each episode, if appropriate. This additional detail allowed for feedback, engagement with our learners, and the chance to provide additional educational points, if the learner was interested. Given the integrated nature of this platform, quality metrics could easily be recorded in the form of “click” data and various other more conventional metrics, such as listener counts and the duration of each podcast played.

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