CHRISMED Journal of Health and Research

: 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 287--288

Distance learning and community of inquiry: How webinars for postgraduates are different from undergraduate online teaching sessionsx?

M Shuriya Prabha1, V Dinesh Kumar2,  
1 Department of Paediatrics, Rajah Muthiah Medical College and Hospital, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry, India

Correspondence Address:
V Dinesh Kumar
Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry

How to cite this article:
Prabha M S, Kumar V D. Distance learning and community of inquiry: How webinars for postgraduates are different from undergraduate online teaching sessionsx?.CHRISMED J Health Res 2020;7:287-288

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Prabha M S, Kumar V D. Distance learning and community of inquiry: How webinars for postgraduates are different from undergraduate online teaching sessionsx?. CHRISMED J Health Res [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 May 8 ];7:287-288
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The lockdown period, beginning from March end, has brought out the phase of inevitable transition in the field of medical education by surfacing the need of deploying remote learning strategies for an indefinite period so as to keep the students engaged. The “imposed” shift in online learning carried its own merits and demerits depending on the abilities of the learner to master the content delivered in a virtual environment and degree of independent learning.[1] Meanwhile, there was a palpable surge in the number of webinars conducted for postgraduate students who could learn seemingly complex topics which was not easily happening erstwhile.[2] While undergraduate medical educators were striving hard to continue the ongoing curriculum without disruption by adopting feasible virtual strategies, the pandemic provided opportunities for online collaboration between academic peers across institutions and this helped in sharing knowledge in various topics.[3] Over here, we envisage the ongoing paradigm shift from two angles: one from undergraduate medical teacher (provider) point of view and postgraduate resident (receiver) point of view.

Although we have evidence from the literature[4],[5] enunciating successful utilization of distanced learning programs related to clinical care, the number and importantly positive attitude of consumers attending webinars related to COVID-19 management attracted many to confidently venture into this arena. The exponential success of this academic phenomenon could largely be attributed to the level of intrinsic motivation of an adult learner, say postgraduate student, who could learn better in the presence of an informal learning community.[5] On the other hand, the undergraduate students got swarmed with webinars, YouTube® videos, and presentations in learning management systems. I, being an undergraduate teacher, have witnessed that the students' enthusiasm getting frozen due to material overload in the due course of time. In an informally conducted crude survey based on a small sample size, students opined that they have been overprovided with learning contents from various departments and the volumes of it make them feel sore about the learning process. This was objectively evident from the declining attendance rates and noninteractive chat-rooms. One reason might be because these students, who were constantly taught in the classroom-based environment before lockdown, lacked the social presence of peers and teachers which would have subsequently dwindled the cognitive investment.[6]

Contrasting to the undergraduate sessions where the same factual knowledge was taught on different platforms, webinars hosted expert interviews and panel discussions. It was more conversational along with sharing of real-life experiences. In a previous study related to podcasts, residents have mentioned the feel of connectedness with other members of the same specialty as the main influencer of engagement.[7] According to the sociocultural learning theory, it is imperative for the audience to perceive the social context while attending such sessions and this would have a significant impact in terms of tacit learning.[8]

We wish to posit the abovementioned phenomenon under the lens of “community of inquiry” in informal learning environments. Garrison et al.[9] proposed that the success of distanced educational course depends on the quality of social and academic connections developing among participants and the absence of quality connections would indeed dampen even quality sessions. The community of inquiry contains three components: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Cognitive presence refers to those aspects which are more used in the conventional classroom when compared to virtual classes such as set induction, exploratory questions, and integration of concepts. Social presence is the characteristic by which the participants “perceive” themselves in a realistic manner. This shall happen when there is a high degree of communication and emotional investment while attending the session. Teaching presence implies to the way a teacher modulates his/her session according to the degree of participation exhibited by students. In online sessions, which are principally an asynchronous text-based environment, both students and educators need to adapt themselves so as to effectively achieve these elements. Being a newer platform for novice learners and with educators having little experience in maneuvering the session, it takes time to render quality teaching-“learning discourse in it. In contrast, webinars conducted for postgraduate students cater what they need, address practical issues, and help in sharing experiential knowledge in a precise community.[10] This resulted in enhanced motivation and continued participation of learners. The chat system is also increasingly used by them because when compared to novices, postgraduate students do not have the psychological barrier while posing questions and richer discussion do happen because of a variety of experiences.[10]

We wish to conclude by stating that there has been a significant and widespread change in the medical education paradigms over the past 3 months. However, the degree of acceptance seems to vary according to the maturity of learners. We have to try and test different components of teaching discourse and find how much do they correlate with student performance and satisfaction. The abovementioned discourse is a sample anecdote based on our perception and we hope to witness a significant number of publications in this regard in the near future. However, unless we achieve an optimal level of interaction among the participants and promote the sense of “community of inquiry,” distance learning would be just another dream which has not got materialized.

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