Medskl boosts online access to medical education

By Rosie Lombardi

dr-sanjay-sharmaToronto-based Medskl has developed a novel approach to education for medical students and practicing doctors who need CME credits. The company offers free online medical courses showcasing over 200 of the best professors in medicine, along with content developed by its team of animators and developers. “We asked the deans of various medical schools to recommend their most awesome lecturers,” says Dr. Sanjay Sharma (pictured), founder of Medskl and professor of ophthalmology at Queen’s University. “Anyone in the world can access our content for free. However, people will need to pay to get accredited.”

In this Q&A, Sharma explains why he started up Medskl, how it works and the benefits it brings to medical practitioners who want to enhance their medical education.

Q: What was the impetus for starting up Medskl?

A: I lecture on acute visual loss, and it became pretty obvious to me within five minutes of starting a lecture that kids were booting up their computers and going on to Facebook and YouTube. I figured, well, either we’re doing something wrong, or there’s a fundamental shift in the way the next generation is learning.

Q: How did you go about redesigning the content?

A: We started small. I changed my course, and then spoke to my Queens colleagues in ophthalmology to redesign our unit. We did it first with video content, and then with whiteboard animations in conjunction with video content.

The current offering now is comprised of three components: a two-minute whiteboard animation, a 1,000-word written summary, and a 15-minute lecture. That seems to be the right mix to accommodate almost every learning style: some people like to learn through video, some like audio, some like text-based learning.

Once we had a proof of concept in ophthalmology, we did a research study and published it in peer reviewed literature. We saw a 10 percent improvement in test scores for medical students who used Medskl courses versus traditional courses. Almost 90 percent stated a preference for multimedia, and there was a 70 percent reduction in time spent on the materials.

Q: Your content employs the “flipped” approach pioneered by Microsoft’s Khan Academy. What is that?

A: The flipped classroom is different from conventional lecture-style classes. A few days before the in-person class, students review and study the online material, so there’s a fair amount of pre-class learning. Then the local professor uses the in-class lecture to present cases and examples, or uses other approaches to deepen learning instead of just presenting facts. The class becomes interactive and is no longer a session around a PowerPoint presentation.

Q: Why do your students need to use your specialized Medskl platform instead of just making content available on YouTube?

A: Actually, some of our content is on YouTube. But we also have a lot of text-based elements and we offer a series of quizzes to test knowledge, so it’s much more comprehensive than just video.

Q: How do you plan to monetize Medskl?

A: The courses are free but the moment someone wants to do some testing, or get a certificate, that’s where they would pay. It’s a lot like the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) model being used by many universities where thousands of people can take a course online for free, but only the ones who want to get a certificate pay the university for the service.

Q: Are your courses recognized by mainstream medical schools?

A: If you’re a U of T med student, you might take these courses to enhance your understanding, but you couldn’t replace your U of T course with this. Our content is somewhere in-between a textbook of medicine and a formal course. We’re not actually offering standalone courses per se. What we’re doing is helping medical schools flip their classrooms. Most Canadian universities are starting to use our content, but we’re not giving out degrees.

Q: How are your courses better or different than other apps for medical textbooks?

A: Our students are telling us that our approach is far more comprehensive than others. They like having content that covers an area A to Z right across the board. And we’ve taken a lot of care and attention to find lecturers who are super passionate about medical education, and to offer content in three different formats to appeal to different learning styles. In the future, we’ll be adding curated links and discussion forums, so there’ll be more peer to peer learning.

Q: What kind of response are you getting now from practicing doctors who want to get CME credits, or to broaden their scope of practice?

A: In our focus groups, many practicing physicians told us this is a fantastic approach to continuing education. Our next critical goal is to get our content accredited. We’re in the midst of discussions and going through the application process with the Canadian College of Family Physicians.

Hopefully, we’ll be accredited within the next few months so physicians who use our content can use Medskl at home at their own pace and still get CME credits for it.

Q: How has Medskl content been received overall by the medical community?

A: We just went live a couple of months ago, and the response has been phenomenal. We have registered users from over sixty universities now across North America. Most of the deans’ offices are starting to talk to individual course directors to make sure that Medskl is available to their medical students. Yale and other Ivy League universities are either keen to start using it or have already started.

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