A beginner's guide to e-learning

Dip your toe in the water and find out how e-learning offers a flexible and convenient way to keep your practice up-to-date, says CSP adviser Nina Paterson.


In pressured working environments with competing demands, e-learning is a great option for professional development. It offers flexibility when time is precious – you can go at your own pace, plan your schedule to fit around your other demands, and study wherever you happen to be.

E-learning is nothing more than a course, module or stand-alone activity delivered using technology. There’s plenty of choice out there from academic courses (degrees, masters and beyond) to freely available material created by experts and enthusiasts.

Getting started with e-learning

First step – ignore the jargon. Don’t worry if you don’t know your # (hashtag) from your MOOCs (massive open online courses), if you do any of the following you’re already ‘doing e-learning’.

For example, you might have:

  • used iCSP to discuss ideas and experience or ask your peers for advice
  • accessed the resources available via ePortfolio CPD resources workspace
  • participated in one of the CSP’s leadership, or independent prescribing, webinars 

Many of you working as NHS and bank staff complete online modules covering elements of mandatory training, which means you’re probably more proficient than you realise.

What are you looking for?

Deciding whether an e-course, module or activity is going to meet your needs is no different to planning your learning anywhere. What’s different is that you’re doing it online. You need to think about what you want to learn, how best to learn it and what resources you’ll need to make that happen.

You will find e-learning material designed with health professionals in mind, covering content as far-ranging as leadership, management, end of life care, compassion, pain management, research, audit, introduction to health informatics and workforce planning. The list is endless.

Just like any classroom-based course, you need to be clear what your needs are (your aims, objectives or goals), then match these with the course, module or stand-alone activity’s aims and content.

This is key. It may be an exciting interactive webinar hosted by ‘the world expert in … ’ but if it isn’t what you need to learn, find something that suits you better.

Finding the right approach

The examples given above should give an indication that there’s plenty of choice. So if you’re faced with a number of courses, modules or activities, you might want to also think about what you’ll get out of the different formats.

All e-learning providers make the most of their online nature. They deliver content via web pages, workbooks, videos and podcasts, for example. You will do much of the learning, without the direct involvement of a tutor, which requires you to take control of your learning.

Make the most of any opportunities provided to assess yourself and your progress. You may be formally assessed through submitting an assignment online which will be marked or graded by a tutor, but more likely you’ll have the opportunity to test or rate yourself.

Take a quiz, keep a blog, respond to self-reflective questions devised by a facilitator to help steer your thoughts. (The continuing professional development resources found in the CSP ePortfolio are another familiar example of this in practice).

If you enjoy learning with and from others, there are plenty of opportunities while learning online. Discussion boards are one way to interact with others (interaciveCSP is a familiar example).

If you value time to reflect before responding, this approach might suit you. As others are not expecting an instant reply, you’ll have time to construct your response with care.

If you prefer a more immediate connection, you might enjoy a webinar. Webinars can be used to deliver live lectures or panel sessions, followed by a question or answer with the speaker(s). If you think you’ll be missing out if you can’t see your fellow students’ faces, there’s evidence to suggest these types of activities encourage active listening skills in as much depth as any face-to-face encounter.

Some courses use webinars to deliver virtual action learning sets. These are facilitated, online discussions where everyone participates in problem solving or brainstorming activities. Online journal clubs offer opportunities to meet online and evaluate current evidence or research. If you are a lone worker or sole-practitioner these can be a way to connect with others and stay up-to-date.

Technology: What you will need

To get started you’ll require a few things: access to the internet (via a computer, tablet or smartphone) and a webcam (these usually come built in as standard to most portable devices such as laptops and iPads) or phone line if you want to join an online discussion remotely.

Good providers should offer help to get you started. For example, when the CSP ran webinars last summer we put as much effort into getting members set up and comfortable with the system, as we did into finding the right chairs and speakers to facilitate and deliver the content.

You may need to download additional software (e.g. QuickTime, Flash Player). If you plan to learn at work, speak to IT support to ensure that IT is up-to-date and not blocked by a firewall.

Examples of free to access e-learning

The CSP already offers a range of e-learning opportunities, but in 2015 this will be consolidated. We’ve been reviewing what we deliver and how best to deliver it – behind the scenes we’re investing in technology and resources to make this happen. So watch this space!

Where do you go from here? Just follow the steps in the article: decide what you need to learn, think about how you’d you like to learn it, then find out what’s out there, sign up and begin.

Nina Paterson

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