A Comparison of Student Outcomes in Online Versus In-Person Interprofessional Education
Background: Members of Linking Interprofessional Networks for Collaboration (LINC), UT Health San Antonio’s institutional initiative to advance interprofessional education (IPE), developed the university-wide LINC Common IPE Experience for all incoming learners. Launched in 2020, this foundational IPE activity involves three case-based online modules focused on teamwork and communication competencies completed synchronously in interprofessional groups of 3-4 students. In 2021, as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions loosened, student groups were encouraged to complete the modules online but were given the option to do so in-person if they followed health and safety protocols. This created an opportunity to compare outcomes from in-person versus online learning modalities.
Design: Three post-module student evaluations included engagement-, satisfaction-, and IPEC competency-focused Likert-type items rated on a scale of 1-5 (strongly disagree to strongly agree), as well as open-ended questions. A similarly structured student evaluation was administered for the cumulative experience along with the Module 3 evaluation. Descriptive statistics were used to characterize quantitative data and independent t-tests were used to compare outcomes from in-person versus online learning modalities. A qualitative descriptive approach was utilized to analyze free-text entries to identify themes and sentiment related to learning modality.
Results: 1040 students from 25 educational programs completed the LINC Common IPE Experience in 2021. Response rates for student evaluations and learning modality varied slightly across modules, respectively [Module 1: 97% (n=1010/1040), 76% online/24% in-person; Module 2: 93% (n=968/1040), 77% online/23% in-person; Module 3/Cumulative: 93% (n=966/1040), 79% online/21% in-person]. Independent t-tests examined if responses to student evaluation items differed as a function of learning modality. Students who participated in-person had significantly higher mean scores on all Module 2 items and 85% (11/13) of Cumulative items than students who participated online, although responses for both modalities never differed by more than 0.24, respectively. Analysis of free-text survey responses yielded the same themes and sentiment regardless of in-person or online participation: interprofessional socialization, care collaboration, and deconflicting schedules and workload.
Multiple IPE studies have demonstrated that online learning is as or more effective than in-person learning. Our retrospective analysis exploring the impact of IPE learning modality within a very large and heterogenous group of first-year students appears to contradict these reports. An important limitation to our analysis is that student groups self-selected to complete the experience online or in-person, introducing bias that may have impacted our results. A prospective study randomizing student groups to online versus in-person learning is warranted.