Physicians, medical students like learning radiology via online ‘Second Life’

Family physicians as well as medical students appreciate the opportunity to bone up on radiology via online classrooms using the popular Second Life platform. And while doctors tend to immerse themselves in the process with somewhat lower intensity, reflected as less doc-to-doc interaction, all seem to readily take to radiology training with avatars and other features of the virtual world—even when they’ve had no prior exposure to Second Life.

That’s what researchers found at University of Málaga in Spain when they presented a three-week course on general radiology in Second Life during a four-month course. The trainees included 14 family physicians who volunteered for the project and 48 students in their third year of medical school.

The researchers presented their findings online March 12 in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

The course consisted of six 2-hour synchronous sessions, in which all participants attended lessons online at set times, and four asynchronous tasks between the sessions. The tasks entailed independently interpreting x-rays of the chest, abdomen and musculoskeletal system, along with differentiating between normal and abnormal abdominal x-rays.

On task performance, the physicians performed significantly better than the students on the MSK reads. However, there were no differences between the two test groups on the other three tasks.

On satisfaction with the virtual training, “all participants rated the experience positively and found the environment attractive and the initiative, the course and the intervention of the professor interesting, adequate and appropriate for their medical training,” the study authors reported.

They further found that family physicians self-rated their own participation as “less active,” as the doctors had less course-related interaction with their peers than the medical students had with their classmates.

In their discussion, the authors noted that the virtual sessions and tasks in Second Life cut the costs of travel for learners and teachers alike, which helped make the business case for the virtual approach. 

They underscored the similarity in satisfaction between the two groups despite the students’ attendance in the synchronous sessions together in an actual classroom and the physicians’ attendance separately and from a distance.

“One might think that working with local students in a virtual place is not interesting because the real advantage is using virtual environments from remote locations. However, today’s students frequently have complementary online academic activities, and Second Life is certainly an attractive tool for online learning that avoids the need to travel to campus to meet,” the authors wrote.

Meanwhile, the experience with family physicians “clearly demonstrated an advantage for distance learning,” the authors concluded. “One might also think that there was a bias of proximity or relationship with the teacher. However, the perception of the project by family physicians, who had no direct relationship with the teacher, was as positive as that of the students.”