What a year it’s been! Until March 2020, our medico-legal training was event-based. Face-to-face training courses took place in Oxford, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Bristol, Exeter…you get the idea.
In early 2020, Inspire MediLaw had just been awarded accreditation from the Royal College of Surgeons of England for our medical Expert Witness Training programme. We were also writing new training content to develop and diversify the CPD content on offer to our medico-legal delegates. Plans were progressing apace!
Our March 2020 Expert Witness training course in Oxford took place over two days as usual, but the mood was a little different. We heeded public health advice. The conference room windows were open, hand sanitiser was readily available, and there was no handshaking when people greeted one another. The non-medics at the event were keen to hear what was happening on the ground, and there was mention of confirmed COVID cases in at least one of the hospitals represented in the room.
Developing our online expert witness training
And suddenly, it all changed. A few days after the course, the national lockdown was announced, and Inspire MediLaw’s upcoming events were cancelled. With the time saved on travel, the team’s focus shifted to devising and creating online content. We have supported medico-legal practitioners in this way ever since, with a handful of in-person events taking place when restrictions have permitted.
What’s the verdict on online training – will it replace face-to-face events?
As a starting point, don’t forget that online training wasn’t invented when lockdown happened! There have been live and pre-recorded webinars available for CPD for many years, and online learning has increased in professional workplaces for some time.
What is new is that, without in-person training, conferences or seminars, it is harder to access an informal forum for peer-to-peer learning.
A benefit of attending events is the opportunity for delegates to chat over a cuppa or in a meal break; share experiences in their small groups; or engage the speaker/trainer in conversation in a quiet moment. This is how relationships are built. It is when quieter delegates seize the opportunity to ask their questions. This is an important factor in building long-term relationships between the training provider and the delegate. Atmosphere (and refreshments) matter!
Yet, as we’ve adjusted to very different styles of working, online training has come into its own. You’ll have already heard the usual benefits of online training: you can attend a training session anywhere in the world from the comfort of your own home and fit the training around your busy life. Brushing up on your skills and acquiring knowledge has never been so convenient!
There are wider benefits too. The person or organisation paying for the training will save money – not only on the cost of attendance but also on travel, accommodation and sustenance costs. There is also the positive impact on the environment – a reduced carbon footprint for the individual and organisation.
It is unusual to attend a training course that is pitched just right for every delegate present for the duration of the event. Some will already know elements of the training, and others will struggle to keep up with new concepts or ideas. Online training available as a recording is a winner on this front, enabling the delegate to really focus on the areas they need to consolidate. They can listen or watch again, and take the time to do additional research to ensure they understand.
Online training needs to be available in modules. An all-day conference in person is made enjoyable as delegates move from session to session, meet their contemporaries, and step outside for some fresh air! Sitting in front of a screen all day is quite another matter and makes it difficult to stay engaged. So accessing seminars or keynotes from an online conference as standalone content means that delegates benefit from the training they really need – and it keeps costs down too.
The flip side is, of course, the financial impact on your training providers. They must still shoulder the costs of their online platform, fees for speakers/trainers, staff salaries, accreditation or programme-related fees, and the time/cost of devising and producing new content.
High-quality training providers want to engage with their delegates to understand their ongoing training needs better. This is how they plan new and improve existing training courses. At a venue-based event, it is much easier to do this. Casual conversations are the order of the day, and a good events team get a feel for how the training has been received before the formal feedback is even written. Gauging a delegate response is harder with online courses, especially with pre-recorded content.
Live online training is often subject to technical difficulties! This can happen to the delegate or the provider, and it is always stressful for the individuals attempting to resolve the problem. The provider must identify and sort the issue remotely, while the delegate feels frustrated at being unable to access the content or attend the event they have paid for. At least when travelling to an in-person event, it is easier to blame the trains or the traffic for a delayed arrival! It goes without saying that, where connection or delivery issues arise with live online events, it can leave a poor impression of the training – regardless of where the problem actually lies.
Training providers have adapted, despite the challenges!
There are no two ways about it. The pandemic has changed the provision of training worldwide, and we are much more used to entering a Zoom room than a conference hall these days. Knowledge sharing has increased as conference providers make their content widely available, and delegates can tailor their learning to their specific needs by choosing exactly the content they require from a much wider range of events.
Training providers have come up with innovative ways to engage their delegates and ensure they get the most out of their learning journey. At Inspire MediLaw, many of our modular medico-legal training courses conclude with a one-to-one session with one of our training faculty. This combines the convenience of training on tap, with the opportunity to talk through the tuition, set tasks, and ask further questions. We have held online panel discussions about consent in medical practice, setting the scene for in-person workshops with leading medico-legal practitioners later in the year.
Will training providers abandon the venue-based events?
It’s a definite no from Inspire MediLaw!
As long as the interpersonal element of work and learning matters, venue-based events will still be a key part of our training provision.
Building a community of medical expert witnesses and lawyers
We want to build a community for lawyers and medical experts to share their skills, knowledge and perspectives. Meeting in person is a really important factor in growing this community.
We have, however, learnt that embracing online training brings huge benefits. It removes the geographical limitations for our speakers and our delegates. This enables us to reach a wider audience with our training and it encourages professionals from other jurisdictions to get involved in our work. It also enables us to provide our community with online resources which they can use to enhance their professional development or simply as a source of information if an issue arises.