Continuing education is important in every field, but especially for medical professionals. With new technologies, treatments and research coming out every year, the people who keep the country healthy need to stay up-to-date in their fields.

Of course, continuing education can be hard to fit into a busy schedule. Unlike office workers, medical workers can’t usually skip a shift to attend training. So while online learning is still relatively new, it’s quickly changing the way learners at all levels receive instruction. The results so far have been positive, especially for adults pursuing continuing education. Read on to discover the latest research on e-learning, as well as the pros and cons of both online and traditional classes.

Studies Show Positive Results for Online Learners

A recent report from the Department of Education analyzes a variety of studies comparing e-learning with face-to-face instruction. It found that students in online courses had better outcomes than those who only received classroom instruction. Older learners in particular fared especially well with digital education. This is good news for medical professionals who need flexibility to fit continuing education into their schedules.

Online Education Offers What Traditional Instruction Can’t

A teacher overseeing 20 or more students cannot always tailor instruction to fit the varying needs of every person in the class. However, personalized instruction is much easier to achieve in online classes. If a student has mastered some of the content already, they can skip over that part instead of sitting in boredom in the classroom. Plus, with a teacher available through chat, email and other platforms, students can ask questions and receive individual help anytime they need it.

In traditional classes, instruction often centers on a lecture from the instructor and some discussion from students. The instructor might model the skills they are teaching, but students must often wait to practice those skills until they complete the homework. The interactive nature of online learning allows students to apply their new knowledge immediately to complete tasks. For example, a medical professional learning about a new medical records technology could practice putting patient information into the new system. This hands-on style of learning is very effective for most people.

Flexibility is one of the most obvious benefits of online education. Students can complete courses at their own pace, whenever and wherever it’s convenient. Another kind of flexibility is the chance to preview courses before paying, in which students can complete a whole class before submitting payment to receive certification. While these benefits apply to every kind of online education, they are especially relevant for medical professionals seeking continuing education.

Online Classes Still Foster Collaborative Learning

Some people avoid online classes because they want face-to-face interaction with the teacher and other students. However, the community and collaborative nature of the traditional classroom need not be lost in e-learning. With social media, video chat and other technologies, students can connect and share knowledge to help each other learn. They can also meet the teacher for virtual conferences that provide the same level of attention as in-person meetings. In fact, students in a virtual class may be more likely to form connections because they are already comfortable with digital communication. For continuing education learners, this provides a valuable opportunity to network and make professional connections in the field.

Still Torn? Try the Hybrid Approach

For many people, discipline is the main factor separating traditional instruction from online learning. The flexibility and self-paced approach that online classes offer also requires discipline from the student to complete the course without having to attend class at a certain time and place each week.

Adult learners who are worried about self-discipline, or simply fear their busy schedules will be an obstacle to completing continuing education, can take the hybrid approach. Also known as a blended class, many schools offer hybrid online and face-to-face courses that combine the benefits of both approaches.

Continuing education is the fastest-growing segment of online learning and it’s easy to see why. Professional adult learners benefit from flexibility, personalized instruction and networking opportunities. Thanks to the abundant choices for online continuing education, medical professionals don’t have to choose between their rounds and their need to stay current in their field.