Best Practices / Research Oral Abstract

All for One and One for All: Individual Versus Collaborative Online Learning in Continuing Education (O032)

Heather MacNeill, MD, BSc(PT), FRCPC (Assistant Professor, Dept of Medicine, University of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital); Elizabeth Hanna, MHSc., Reg.CASLPO (Lecturer, Dept of Speech Language Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital); Renee Lyons, PhD (Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Bridgepoint Chair in Complex Chronic Disease Research, TD Financial Group Scientific Director, Bridgepoint Collaboratory for Research and Innovation); Barbara Soren, PhD (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital; Alexandra Sparaggis, BA, Bridgepoint Hospital)


This descriptive exploratory study examined the differences between synchronous online group versus individual learners during a longitudinal course containing a case building exercise. When examining differences, 4 major themes emerged: motivation, learning needs, time and authenticity to practice. Among group learners, reflections on collaborative practice appeared to be more detailed and added challenges of synchronous technology, including non visual communication and time, were noted.


Little is known about how online collaborative learning occurs in healthcare education. This exploratory, descriptive study examined the perceived differences between individual and collaborative group online learning in a synchronous (real time) setting.


Fifteen interdisciplinary healthcare professionals participated in a 12 week, blended online course consisting of online background information and a facilitated “case building” exercise (modified “build-acase method”) where learners were randomized into 2 groups. Group 1 (group learners, n=10) created their patient together synchronously using audio streaming/headsets and synchronous chat, Group 2 (individual learners, n=5) built their case independently online using the same software.

The Collaboration Self-Assessment Tool and the Interprofessional Attitudes Questionnaire were completed at pre, post intervention and 4 month follow-up. Qualitative focus groups were held post intervention and at 4 month follow up and were triangulated with reflection pieces and online sessions.


There was more evidence of increased collaboration and knowledge translation in the group learners for the objectives of the case building exercise. Other reported differences between individual and group learners highlighted 4 areas — motivation (higher for group learners), learning needs (unperceived learning needs of individual learners and compromise/negotiation of learning needs by group learners), time (group learning is time intensive) and authenticity to practice (more “life like” for group learners). The online synchronous method also added 2 challenges for group learners: lack of visual communication, and time for technology integration.


This exploratory study describes areas for consideration, when matching learning objectives to online collaborative learning methods.

Funding Sources

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Medical Education Research Grant), HSBC Bank of Canada