Healthcare Education must respond to the rapid digitalisation of learning environments


In the current digital age, education has a responsibility to respond to the ever-changing needs of society, in addition to keeping pace with innovative methods of instruction & learning, and the digitalisation of learning environments. The ways in which we teach and learn must adapt quickly and effectively in order to address 21st century challenges related to climate change and sustainability. 


The impact of this rapid digitalisation is affecting public sector and private industries, from construction companies to higher education institutions. Healthcare education is no exception, as the introduction of digital technologies and platforms are presenting several opportunities yet to be fully explored, along with several potential challenges. It is essential for healthcare education institutions to respond quickly and effectively to this digital revolution in order to ensure that teaching and learning remain relevant considering changing societal needs and a need for sustainable development.



Understanding Digital Transformation

Digital transformation received a significant boost because of the pandemic. It is defined as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, transforming how businesses operate and deliver value to customers. On a simple level it involves taking traditional methods and processes, such as paper-based documents and manual procedures, and digitising them in order to create efficiencies, reduce costs, and achieve better customer outcomes. On a more complex level, it has led to the creation and development of new digital tools within the fields of VR/AR/XR/AI and Machine Learning (ML) that have the potential to revolutionise how we train future healthcare professionals. From online courses and distance learning to virtual classrooms and VR simulations, digital technology has introduced drastic changes which are shaking the foundations of traditional university training models.  

Digital learning and teaching methods can provide more flexibility and a greater range of options for training institutions. For instance, distance learning and virtual classrooms allow for better access to education, as students can access the same quality of teaching material from anywhere in the world. In addition, new innovations in digital technology, such as AI and ML have the potential to improve the relevance of education on an individual level by collecting and processing large quantities of data, filtering, tailoring and constantly evolving teaching materials and content.

VR simulations can strengthen healthcare education programmes by allowing learners to practice skills in a virtual reality environment. Students can gain a better understanding of complex medical procedures and treatments, as well as practice physical procedures such as performing suctioning, taking bloods, performing CPR, administering oxygen, medications or injections. VR in combination with a physical model (often called XR) can also allow trainee practitioners to practice manual skills / facilitating mobilisation / turning etc. This can help the learner become more comfortable with the material and communication strategies before they are expected to perform with a real patient. Virtual dialogue simulators are another great tool available to practice collecting subjective assessments etc. VR simulations can provide a safe environment for students to get hands-on experience and practice in a risk-free environment. This type of simulation can also help to reduce the cost of healthcare education programmes, as well as reduce the time it takes to reach a required level of proficiency.

Whilst these technologies have existed for a long time, the increasing utilisation of these tools in all areas of digital life are happening at a rapid pace which may present some challenges when it comes to the potential harms, inefficiencies or biases such models are prone to, particularly when it comes to ethnicity and race. One example being the increasing popularity of various ‘chat bots’ such as OpenAI / Microsofts ChaptGPT or ‘Googles Brad’. The technology is capable of producing large quantities of written texts based on information that is fed into the platform / available online – but there is as of yet no strict measures in place to fact check the information other than manual investigations – although companies are working on fixes for this issue.

AI can be used to identify patterns and trends in data that help providers understand the complexity of healthcare statistics, including the prevalence and underlying causes of disease in different demographics. There are security and data privacy concerns we should all be aware of. In a world heavily reliant on digital technology, education institutions must prioritise digital security. This means having policies and procedures in place to ensure that student data is secure and that any technology used in the classroom is protected as well as it can be from potential cyber-attacks. This will be of national interest and should not be left to schools to sort out, but rather funded and coordinated at the level of government. Schools should have strict privacy policies in place to ensure that student information is not shared or abused. Provided that strong control and accountability mechanisms are put in place, AI and ML are likely some of the most powerful tools that can address healthcare problems on a population level. ML can also be utilised to develop algorithms that can identify treatment plans and other healthcare options that may not be immediately obvious.

Ensuring Accessibility

One of the most important strategies to ensure that education remains relevant is to ensure that learning and teaching is accessible to all. Accessibility is key in ensuring that those on the fringes of society can benefit from education, regardless of their socio-economic background or geographic location. To ensure that learning and teaching is accessible, schools must have the resources and infrastructure necessary to facilitate digital learning. This includes access to basic technologies, such as computers and the internet, but now more so than ever VR/AR/AI and ML are become so increasingly common that those that have can very quickly outpace those that do not. They will also require resources to retrain teachers on how to effectively use these technologies in the classroom. The future classroom might also be a lot different than what we are used to, with blended learning (hybrid physical / digital learning) and flipped classrooms (‘student or learner centred’ model, focus on reading at home and problem solving tasks at school – practical model).  

Encouraging Collaboration, Communication and Creativity

Another strategy for responding to the rapid digitalisation of learning environments is to encourage collaboration, communication, and creativity between learners. Technology can create many opportunities for students to work collaboratively and increase the effectiveness of communication in the classroom. It can also provide students with the tools and resources to be creative, allowing them to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to the problems they are addressing. Teachers and school administrators should create an environment where collaboration, communication, and creativity are encouraged and supported, by utilising educational apps and incorporating digital tools into the curriculum. Utilising project-based learning methods in semester praxis will allow students to gain practical experience while also developing the skills and knowledge required to be successful healthcare professionals. Integrating technology into semester praxis, such as using online simulations, VR/AR simulations and hybrid physical/virtual meeting spaces can increase student engagement and create immersive learning experiences. Blended learning methods can give students flexibility in when, how and where they access education.

Adopting a Holistic Approach

Finally, in order to ensure that education remains relevant and enables sustainable development, schools and education institutions should adopt a holistic approach. This means integrating digital technology into the education system, but also considering the more traditional elements, such as social and emotional learning, physical education, and the arts. By taking a holistic approach, schools can ensure that students not only learn how to utilise digital technology, but also develop skills that can help them to lead a successful life.


There are many strategies that education must implement in order to respond to the rapid digitalisation of learning environments. Schools need to ensure that learning is accessible to all, encourage collaboration, communication, and creativity, prioritise digital security, and adopt a holistic approach to learning. By taking these steps, healthcare education can ensure that it remains relevant and enables the development of 21st century skills sustainability competencies.