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The future of learning at work. How technology is influencing working and learning in healthcare: Preparing our students and ourselves for this future

February 16th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Over the last few weeks I seem to have been bombarded with calls for submissions for conferences. Most I have ignored on the grounds that they are just too expensive. And if I can’t afford them, working as a relatively senior researcher with project funding, what hope do emerging researchers have of persuading their universities or companies to pay. But tto be honest I am bored with most of the conferences. Formal papers, formally presented with perhaps ten or twenty people in a session and very limited time for discussion. We know there are better ways of learning!

One conference I have submitted an abstract to is AMEE. – the International Association for Medical Education. Apart from short communications, research papers and PhD presentations AMEE invites posters, Pecha Kucha, workshops, points of view and organises a fringe to the conference. Sounds good to me and as you might guess I have submitted a point of view. Here goes (in 300 words precisely) ……

The future of work is increasingly uncertain and that goes just as much for healthcare as other occupations. An ageing population is resulting in increasing demand for healthcare workers and advances in technology and science are resulting in new healthcare applications. At the same time technology promises a revolution in self-diagnosis, whilst Artificial Intelligence and robots may render many traditional jobs obsolete.

So what can we say about healthcare skills for the future and what does it mean for healthcare education. Whilst machines may take over more unskilled work, there is likely to be increasing demand for high skilled specialist healthcare workers as well as those caring for the elderly. These staff need to be confident and competent in using existing technologies and adapting to technologies of the future.

They will need to be self-motivated lifelong learners, resilient and capable of coping with changing occupational identities. They will need to collaborate in multidisciplinary teams leading to a high premium on communication skills.

Present processes of education and training based predominantly on face-to-face courses cannot cope with the needs of lifelong learning. Learning needs to be embedded in everyday work processes. Technology is critical here; ubiquitous connectivity and mobile devices allow context-based learning. The same technologies can promote informal and social learning, learning from peers and sharing experience and knowledge in personal learning networks. Already there are many MOOCs dedicated to medical education. Healthcare professionals are using social media to build informal learning networks. But these are the exceptions not the norm. In the future machine learning algorithms can support individuals wishing to deepen their knowledge, VR to share experiences. Yet although there is a rich potential, medical educators have to steer the process. We need to know what works, what doesn’t, to evaluate, to share. That needs to start now!

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