Meet the team: Barbara, Chief Product Officer at iheed

Barbara Coen 22 Jun 2021

Barbara is the Chief Product Officer at iheed (Cambridge Education Group) and she and her team of e-learning professionals are responsible for designing and building iheed postgraduate programmes for delivery to a range of healthcare professionals.

What does transforming medical education mean to you?

My colleagues are tired of hearing me say how boring I found postgraduate medical education when I first joined iheed in 2015.  At that time, online medical education was largely about posting lecture notes, articles, or recorded lectures to a learning platform for individual consumption at home. Having come from developing interesting and engaging mobile apps for children during their primary and post-primary school years, I was acutely aware that there was more to online learning than what was being offered.

My vision for iheed courses was that they would put the learner at the heart of the learning experience and deliver educational materials that were interesting, relevant (outcomes focused), evidence-based, engaging, and ultimately something our learners would enjoy. I wanted to provide learning in context (e.g. through patient scenarios), and allow learners to expand their knowledge by providing opportunities to apply what they knew already, identify gaps in their knowledge and then fill those gaps through a range of learning activities including interactive content, simulations, discussions, tutorials and assessments for learning.

I wanted to transform medical education by making our programmes interesting and impactful, not boring, and feel like hard work!

What makes a good online course?

I think the most important thing is designing a course to be online from the outset, rather than trying to migrate an existing course to be delivered online.  Learning online is different from learning in a classroom and it’s important that we take this into account.  We must look at all aspects of the curriculum and ensure we provide an experience online that is equal to, if not better than, the classroom experience. 

With that in mind, we think about how the course will be delivered when building the curriculum, not just what it will include (topics). We break the course down into modules and weekly topics and try to establish a rhythm for each week that the learners will become familiar with, hence improving engagement and motivation. We invest not only in learning/instructional design but also in digital design, engineering, and quality assurance to again ensure that our learners enjoy their learning experience.

Investing in technology to engage learners is also important, e.g.,

  • multi-media assignments which allow us to evaluate areas of competency such as consultative style
  • online proctoring of exams so that exams can be securely taken at home
  • simulations or interactivities that enable learners to apply and practice what they have learned in a safe environment
  • providing access to journals, formularies, and other databases relevant to the course materials so that learners can direct and expand their knowledge themselves
  • augmented reality is another area we are looking at for future clinical programmes.

What’s the hardest part to get right?

The social aspect.

It’s hard to replicate ‘hanging out' with fellow learners at college but as all of our programmes are post-graduate, this aspect is balanced with the convenience of studying at a time that suits the learner best.  LMS platforms and social media tools do help, alongside online tutorials, particularly when learners turn on their video and talk to each other. Over time they do still get to know each other and some stay in touch after graduation

As we move into more group work, and the constraints of COVID begin to loosen, we may see learners meeting up locally. This is another area where technology can support by leveraging geo-location tools, meet-up apps, etc. Watch this space…