CHICAGO (December 01, 2001) - Online education's versatility and accessibility may make it the medium of choice for many professionals and students, but dentists have proven slow to catch on, according to the December 2001 issue of AGD Impact, the monthly news magazine of the Academy of General Dentistry.
Still, many educators and entrepreneurs in dentistry remain hopeful. They say it is too early to discount dentistry's online learning potential, and they are prepared to lure dentists back to the Web with new technology, improved content and a better understanding of dentists' wants and needs. They also say that, unlike the rest of Web-based education, online dental learning is going to be an evolution, not a revolution as originally thought.
Most of the nation's universities offer some form of online learning. According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1.6 million students enrolled in online education courses in 1998.
Though many dentists are turning to the Web for research and entertainment, online continuing dental education (CDE) has failed to pique many dentists' interest. According to Peterson's Guide to Distance Learning Programs 2002, which lists 3,000 programs at more than 1,000 institutions, there are no accredited online education programs for dentistry.
Even the largest online university, The University of Phoenix, does not offer online CDE courses.
The supply is there; the problem is demand, according to Shirley Davis, past president of the United States Distance Learning Association, a Needham, Mass. based organization formed in 1987 to promote the development and application of distance learning. The association has about 3,000 members. "People develop programs because there are large numbers of potential students. As a profession, those numbers may not be there for dentists," says Ms. Davis.
Other reasons given for the lack of interest include dentists using slow Internet connections and other technological hindrances, a lack of variety and poor quality. "It really was more like e-reading. It wasn't e-learning," says James M. Powers, DDS, president and CEO of Phoenix based EDT Learning (www.edtlearning.com).
Dr. Powers and others say a better understanding of dentists needs and new technology that provides faster downloads and a more interactive experience will lure the dentists back.
Dentalxchange, (www.dentalxchange.com) a commercial dental site based in Irvine, Calif., reports 2.5 million hits per month. The site recently partnered with DenTrek (www.dentrek.com) to expand the availability of "virtual lectures" given by dentistry's most popular educators.
According to William F. Wathen, DMD, vice president of oral health sciences at Dentalxchange, the company offers 800 hours of online CDE. Dr. Wathen, who took a sabbatical from Baylor College of Dentistry to help the online site develop new dental courses, added that the company is working to develop a curriculum that will cover all of dentistry. Dentalxchange and Dentrek are approved by the AGD's Program Approval for Continuing Education (PACE).
The full story, Rediscovering Online CDE: Despite Slow Start, Internet Educators Believe They Can Lure Dentists to the Web, can be found on the Academy's Web site at www.agd.org.