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How e-learning can affect the future of the dental hygiene profession: Part 2

Dec. 16, 2014
The health care arena is moving toward a new era of group type practices, mobile businesses that reach out to underserved populations, and more opportunities in public health and private health care-related companies.

Read Part 1 of the e-learningarticle here.

How are we preparing the future generation of dental hygienists to meet current trends in health care and dental hygiene? Is the traditional curriculum model as seen in Part 1 in line with preparing dental hygienists to explore unique career settings and independent or collaborative practice models? What tools are we providing in the curriculum to prepare students to be more business savvy, and more knowledgeable about alternatives to the traditional clinical settings?

The health care arena is moving toward a new era of group type practices, mobile businesses that reach out to underserved populations, and more opportunities in public health and private health care-related companies. We want the public to perceive us as more than just professionals who take care of teeth. But are we doing enough to equip existing and future dental hygienists with the necessary tools to be perceived as more than “teeth cleaners”?

So how can we keep up with the fast changes in health care regulations and technology? By implementing faster and more effective learning. At a time when change is faster than ever, a key advantage of e-learning is that it has faster delivery times than traditional classroom-based instruction. As noted in the literature, there is a limit to how fast learning can be rolled out with classroom-based instruction, as the capacity to deliver learning is limited by the number of available classrooms and trainers. As an example, British Telecom delivered e-business training to 23,000 employees in three months at a cost of £5.9 million, compared to £17.8 million and a five-year time span for classroom training.(1)

A nine-year survey of the research about training published by Fletcher and Tobias in “Training and retraining,” commissioned by the American Psychological Society and published in 2000(2), concluded, “Specific studies from Fletcher, Kulik, Willett, Yamashita & Anderson all confirm that learners learn more using computer-based instruction than they do through traditional classroom methods.”(2, 3, 4, 5)

Brandon Hall notes that the learning most suited to e-learning includes information and knowledge on processes and procedures.(6)

E-learning and dental hygiene changes – what’s the connection? Administrators of dental and dental hygiene programs have consistently reported their intentions to increase the use of e-learning over the last decade.(7) Assessing the adoption of e-learning in the dental curriculum, the study indicated that 52% of responding deans of dental programs and 33% of directors of graduate dental education programs encouraged the use of e-learning.(7) Despite their widespread support for e-curriculum, dental school administrators have identified faculty reluctance to change and lack of faculty training as barriers to increasing the use of e-learning.

Dental faculties have historically been slow to adopt technological innovations. Evidence that dental faculties are late adopters of e-curricula comes from a 2004 study of students in North American dental schools with mandatory laptop programs. Clearly, the adoption and widespread use of e-curricula are highly dependent on dental and dental hygiene faculty members. Overall, e-learning can supplement and reinforce more traditional learning and has the potential to develop skills and knowledge among dental and dental hygiene students. The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) report Best Practices in Dental Education in 2001 identified the following strategies used by dental schools to incorporate web-based learning – using the web to deliver parts of or entire courses online, and development of e-learning that would supplement coursework.(8)

Additionally, use of e-learning has been suggested as a way to solve overcrowding of dental hygiene curricula and a way to increase active learning. Numerous calls for change have been made regarding the future of the dental curriculum and methods of instructional delivery. One of the priorities for future modification, identified in a 2009 study of 50 U.S. and five Canadian dental schools, was the online provision of some components of the core curriculum.(9) Other consistently advocated changes include increased overall use of computer-based and web-based information technology, and the development of distance learning programs that allow dental and dental hygiene students to receive much of their education where they live.

The ADEA president’s task force on the Future of Dental School Faculty recommended that new opportunities be made for e-learning to decrease faculty time for preparation of lectures and problem-solving activities. In support of e-learning in dental programs, Dr. Elise S. Eisenberg, Senior Director of Information from the New York University College of Dentistry, wrote a recent article about e-learning in dentistry moving forward, and schools becoming more reliant on e-learning technologies to educate their students.(10)

Furthermore, Dr. Eisenberg assumes that as this transformation occurs, schools must become more savvy in evaluating their technological options. Educational technology can empower and inform. It facilitates critical thinking, self-directed learning, and information literacy skills. It also helps educators refine how they teach by analyzing what their students learn. Mobile devices and apps are providing the flexibility for personalized and “just in time” learning, which is impacting how health professionals access information and deliver care. Dr. Eisenberg concludes that educational technology can and should play a part in good instructional design.

While not every dental school currently has instructional technology experts on staff, the diversity of emerging technologies gives every school opportunities to enhance education through e-learning. The need is there, as well as the solution. This is a call to all dental hygiene program leaders to start the change today and embrace e-learning as an essential tool to bring their students forward and prepare them for lifetime opportunities in dental hygiene.

Nufar Kiryatiis a seasoned Registered Dental Hygienist with 20 years of experience in the dental hygiene field, and is the CEO and founder of Knowledent. Knowledent empowers dental hygiene academic programs to prepare their students for a variety of work opportunities in the dental hygiene field, both within and beyond the traditional chair side role in a clinical setting.

1. Austin S, Barder V. The Benefits of E-learning. Retrieved from http://www.kineo.com/resources/new-to-elearning/the-benefits-of-elearning, 201).
2. Tobias S, Fletcher JD. (Eds.) Training and retraining: A handbook for business, industry, government, and the military. New York: Macmillan Gale Group. 2000.
3. Fletcher D. The effectiveness and cost of interactive videodisc instruction. Machine-Mediated Learning, 3, 361-385. 1999.
4. Kulik JA. Meta-analytic studies of findings on computer-based instruction. In E.L. Baker, and H.F. O’Neil, Jr. (Eds.). Technology assessment in education and training. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1994.
5. Willett JB, Yamashita JJ, Anderson RD. A Meta-Analysis of Instructional Systems Applied in Science Teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 20(5):405-17. 1983.
6. Hall B. What Works: Strategies for Increasing E-Learning Usage. Brandon Hall Research. 2001.
7. DeBate RD, Cragun D, Severson HH, et al. Factors for Increasing Adoption of E-Courses Among Dental and Dental Hygiene Faculty Members. J Dent Educ. May 2011; 75(5): 589–597.
8. Center for Educational Policy and Research. Best practices in dental education. Washington, DC: American Dental Education Association; 2001.
9. Haden NK, Hendricson WD, Kassebaum DK, et al. Curriculum change in dental education, 2003–09. J Dent Educ. 2010 May;74 (5): 539–57. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20446373.
10. Eisenberg ES. Guest Perspective: eLearning In Dental Education. http://www.adea.org/Blog.aspx?id=23154&blogid=20741.