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BACKGROUND: Online training is growing in popularity and yet its effectiveness for training licensed health professionals (HCPs) in clinical interventions is not clear. We aimed to systematically review the literature on the effectiveness of online versus alternative training methods in clinical interventions for licensed Health Care Professionals (HCPs) on outcomes of knowledge acquisition, practical skills, clinical behaviour, self-efficacy and satisfaction. METHODS: Seven databases were searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) from January 2000 to June 2015. Two independent reviewers rated trial quality and extracted trial data. Comparative effects were summarised as standardised mean differences (SMD) and 95% confidence intervals. Pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random-effects model for three contrasts of online versus (i) interactive workshops (ii) taught lectures and (iii) written/electronic manuals. RESULTS: We included 14 studies with a total of 1089 participants. Most trials studied medical professionals, used a workshop or lecture comparison, were of high risk of bias and had small sample sizes (range 21-183). Using the GRADE approach, we found low quality evidence that there was no difference between online training and an interactive workshop for clinical behaviour SMD 0.12 (95% CI -0.13 to 0.37). We found very low quality evidence of no difference between online methods and both a workshop and lecture for knowledge (workshop: SMD 0.04 (95% CI -0.28 to 0.36); lecture: SMD 0.22 (95% CI: -0.08, 0.51)). Lastly, compared to a manual (n = 3/14), we found very low quality evidence that online methods were superior for knowledge SMD 0.99 (95% CI 0.02 to 1.96). There were too few studies to draw any conclusions on the effects of online training for practical skills, self-efficacy, and satisfaction across all contrasts. CONCLUSIONS: It is likely that online methods may be as effective as alternative methods for training HCPs in clinical interventions for the outcomes of knowledge and clinical behaviour. However, the low quality of the evidence precludes drawing firm conclusions on the relative effectiveness of these training methods. Moreover, the confidence intervals around our effect sizes were large and could encompass important differences in effectiveness. More robust, adequately powered RCTs are needed.

Original publication




Journal article


Bmc med educ

Publication Date





Continuing education, E-learning, Health professionals, Internet based training/learning, Meta-analysis, Online training/learning, Professional development, Systematic review, Training, Attitude to Computers, Clinical Protocols, Computer-Assisted Instruction, Delivery of Health Care, Education, Medical, Graduate, Health Personnel, Humans, Internship and Residency, Licensure, Outcome Assessment (Health Care), Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Self Efficacy