Lifelong Learning in Medical Education Online

Project lead:

Professor David Dewhurst, College of Medicine & veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh

Other Key Staff:

Professor Neil Turner

Dr Helen Cameron

Dr Moffat Nyirenda

Ross Ward

Jo Spiller

Lynne Robertson


College of Medicine (CoM), Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) and Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS)


Scottish Government International Development Fund (£397,643)

Project Summary

This 3-year project ran from November 2008 to May 2011 and was concerned with using e-learning to build capacity for medical and healthcare professional education in Malawi. The University of Edinburgh together with its partner institutions in Malawi, responsible for providing medical and healthcare education, have responded to a need to train and retain more doctors, nurses and clinical officers to meet a critical shortage of health care workers. The response has been to embark on an ambitious programme of curriculum modernization, pedagogical change, adoption of e-learning and the use of digital resources, capacity building, and professional staff development.

The Project has built on Edinburgh’s expertise in e-learning and medical education and there has been significant north-south transfer of knowledge, skills and technology. At the end of the Project all three Malawian institutions have benefitted. In the College of Medicine:

  • there are now 60 medical students recruited each year (15 in 2005) and aspirations to increase this further;
  • the curriculum has been completely rewritten to significantly reduce the level of didactic teaching and place more onus on the students to take responsibility for their own learning;
  • the course is supported through an online Curriculum Management System (CMS)/Virtual Learning Environment from which students can access a wide range of digital learning resources;
  • over 400 discrete learning resources developed to support medical students in Edinburgh have been made easily accessible to medical students in Malawi;
  • Capacity to develop those pedagogical and technical skills required to develop digital resources locally has been developed through ‘train-the-trainers’ workshops facilitated by Edinburgh staff;
  • medical educators have started to develop digital resources locally using skills they have learned in ‘train-the-trainers’ workshops – already there are about 80 such resources including interactive tutorials, virtual patients and skills training videos;
  • the College IT infrastructure has been developed – high-capacity servers, fast, reliable intranet, desk-top PCs for student use.
In addition the Project has built an online system for recording CPD activity of registered doctors in the College of Medicine. This system has now been adopted by the Malawi Medical Council and is in the process of being rolled out to other hospitals and for other healthcare professions.

Both KCN and MCHS have also benefitted through active participation in capacity-building workshops, and access for their students to the same set of resources as medical students. Staff at KCN in particular have been involved in the development of a new, bespoke CMS and significant progress has been made in populating this with course information and linking resources to topics and teaching events.


Capacity building CoM, KCN and MCHS

Approximately 109  staff from medicine (~43), nursing (~46) and health sciences (~20) have participated in formal training workshops over the course of this project. A small number (approximately 20) have been through specially designed advanced training workshops. Additionally the project has trained about another 80 staff through Internally organised staff development workshops (KCN) and one-to-one training sessions in Malawi carried out by Edinburgh staff working there for prolonged placements (CoM).

e-resources linked to CMS

To date there are >400 digital resources from UoE, and approximately 80 resources have been created locally. The Project has also bought licenses for third party anatomy and human physiology resources. Total number is circa 500. At the moment most of these are supporting the early years (basic medical and health sciences) of the degrees. The UoE resources include interactive tutorials (>300); virtual patients (35); videos (45) and others (40).

Creation of digital resources

In addition healthcare staff from CoM and KCN, who have been trained in content authoring,  have developed digital resources locally. KCN staff have developed circa 95 resources including interactive PowerPoint presentations, Interactive CALs, videos and virtual patients.

Curriculum development

New Y3 curriculum launched Jan 2011.  New Y4 curriculum developed and to be launched next academic year

Staff professional development in topics such as PBL, assessment and standard setting; writing effective multiple choice questions, using a VLE to support medical education, professionalism.

CMS development

Existing CMS has been modified for clinical years of UG medicine. New CMS built for KCN.

CPD recording system development

System, built, piloted in CoM and staff training completed. Now adopted by Malawi Medical Council and in process of being rolled-out more widely.

Publications and Presentations

3rd International Conference on ICT for Development, Education & Training. AICC, Accra, Ghana 28-30 May 2008
(Dewhurst, D., & Chimalizeni, Y. (2008) Collaborative Development of Online Virtual Patients for Medical and Healthcare Professional Education in Malawi. 3 pages, Abstracts Book, eLearning Africa:)

Medical Teacher Special Issue on Virtual Patients
Volume 31 Issue 8, pp 721-724.
Dewhurst, D., Borgstein, E., Grant, L. & Begg, M. (2009) Online Virtual Patients – a driver for change in Medical and Healthcare Professional Education in developing countries?