Modern communications technology has made the world of distance learning more viable than ever, even with the occasional need for some to travel and take part in the practical aspect of their degree. The onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, however, seems to have ensured that many distance learners are hampered; trapped in their homes unable to take part in hands-on, practical learning.
One degree particularly affected by this situation is that of radiography. This degree requires a great deal of technical knowledge, as well as practical skills. Aspiring radiographers who are currently stranded in their homes due to COVID-19 are still easily able to read all about the latest developments in their field, as well as understand every technical aspect of the hardware they are expected to operate.
The problem, however, is how to incorporate the practical side of things into the distance learning model. One solution that has already been developed and championed by companies like Virtual Medical Coaching is virtual reality teaching systems.
VR-based scenarios offer immersive and increasingly challenging and realistic experiences for radiographers looking to hone their skills without any actual risk to patients or equipment. From positioning the patient safely and correctly to inputting the right settings to the equipment, and then actually executing an X-ray while adhering to all safety protocols and other required procedures. Every detail is thought through and applied to the scenario to make it both stimulating and informative.
VR for Distance Learners
A difficulty remains, however, when it comes to virtual reality solutions. The problem is that even VR requires students to have access to headsets and dedicated workspaces. The ideal solution was to be able to provide the same challenging, relevant, and informative scenarios as used in the VR suite, but for the home-based 2D screen user.
Virtual Medical Coaching is one example of a company that adapted its existing software to be used on home computers without compromising the quality or educational value of the content. Students are required to fulfil all the criteria of the VR simulation, but instead of the immersive 3D environment, they operate using their point-and-click computer interface.
It would seem, therefore, that distance learning for those pursuing practical degrees such as radiography have a great deal for which to be hopeful. People with reduced means and/or living in more isolated areas will be able to access the same high-quality materials as their wealthier city-dwelling peers with access to local facilities. Furthermore, the innovation means that even in times of crisis and lockdown such as these, our studies can go on unimpeded.
In a world facing a growing and increasingly alarming medical emergency, the ability to continue our training of medical professionals is a significant milestone.
Obstacles are Still Before Us
Despite the great work of providers like Virtual Medical Coaching, we should not be so complacent as to believe all our problems to be totally resolved. There are still questions that need resolution:
· How can we make it easier for educational institutions and students to benefit from their digital learning experiences?
· How can we ensure that students are accessing materials and digital learning scenarios that are suitable for their current level and conducive to advancement?
To the first question, we need the inclusion of big data platforms to make the learning techniques useful to both school and student. To take the example we gave above from Virtual Medical Coaching, the 2D-screen scenarios may well provide radiography students with a litany of challenging scenarios through which they can enrich their knowledge and experience. The problem is, how do we measure and quantify their progress?
The solution: the incorporation of big-data platforms into the system that provide both student and school. These provide instructors and students alike with instant, detailed feedback using metrics on student performance and behavior. Without even being present at the time of simulation, an instructor can know what the student did wrong, what steps led to that mistake, and therefore a solid plan of action for how to avoid that in the future. The student gains the information they need to reflect on each individual experience and process it into a guiding experience that influences good future practice.
To the second question, the answer would appear to lie in artificial intelligence. Although AI is sometimes criticized when used in medical training due to a lack of transparency in how the algorithms are used to make decisions in the scenarios, it still represents the best chance we have of efficiently and accurately keeping distance learners on the right track.
AI could be used to help quickly point distance learners to the scenarios that, according to their latest data, would best help them improve on weaknesses. Learners demonstrating great aptitude and proficiency can be moved on to more challenging areas, where others can remain focused on addressing a deficiency or knowledge gap. This helps educational institutions easily coordinate scattered distance learners wherever they are.
Distance Learning and Radiography – Ready for Reality?
It would seem that innovations like those from Virtual Medical Coaching are fast making distance learning in this field a viable reality. The implications of the technology are very encouraging to us in the day and age of covid-19, where our traditional avenues of education and training are so indefinitely disrupted.