For the last two decades, computers and the internet have been central to education. They are essential tools which allow educators to be creative and collaborative with their teaching, and to enable students an instant and ‘always-on’ access to content (Fig. 1). As a learning tool they are indispensable and at times frustrating, but increasingly they will provide the greater proportion of students’ total quantum of learning. With changes in the way information is accessed and courses are delivered, as well as the omnipresent nature of the internet, education bodies need to be cognisant of newer ways to deliver information, and the ways in which contemporary technologies may be used to address some of the difficulties the modern surgical trainee faces in gaining knowledge and proficiency.
While the benefits of digital education are clear, there are a number of prominent potential issues:
Inconsistent content with a lack of peer review.
Excess volume of content, making it hard to distinguish which will provide the ‘best’ resources.
Content which is made inaccessible due to cost.
Content which is made inaccessible by institutional firewalls or by platform incompatibility.
Confusion and consternation over the risk of infringing copyright.
These issues are in varying stages of resolution, but each provides a potential bar to the delivery of consistent, quality education. However, the trend in each is very much towards improvement.
A potted history of online education
The modern internet is based on the early protocols devised by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 to communicate between academic institutions. From the mid-1990s onwards, personal access to the internet has increased exponentially to become an almost universal tool for learning. Access to the internet for students has been essential for more than two decades, and its uses have increased in parallel with its …