Virtual Education Tips


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Author: Charlotte Davies / Editor: Nikki Abela / Codes: / Published: 31/07/2020

As we move on to a more virtual learning future, we thought we’d culminate these reflections with a few of our top tips for designing and creating e-learning! They’re not exclusive, nor a reflection of the excellent DFTB course we reviewed recently – let us know your suggestions and ideas, via email or #rcemblogs.

1. A bad non-virtual session doesn’t become good just because it’s virtual

Generally, our feedback suggests students prefer interaction, with lots of case examples. They notice not just the content, but the supportive media, and delivery. There’s some other reminders of good techniques here from Twitter which reminds us that there’s no where to hide on virtual sessions.

2. Don’t re-invent the wheel

Just because you’re having to deliver a virtual session doesn’t mean you have to redesign everything. Think about what your message is – what interactivity you want and how you can do it. Signposting to existing resources like one our covid blogs has done, might be all you need to meet your objectives.

3. Recorded sessions

Any recorded session needs to have a very brief introduction – don’t be tempted to waffle on for 3 minutes introducing yourself. The beginning sets the tone, and it is even more important in any virtual sessions. You can take a while to settle in to a session, so if you can chatter away “offline” before starting the recording, it will help you to sound more natural.

The sound quality must be top notch, and you’re better off using an external microphone if you can afford it. You need to check your sound. If you’re recording on your mobile phone and it is crackly, your students will disengage. If you are using your mobile, and don’t know where the microphone is on your phone, find it – otherwise your thumb will mid-recording.

Over the ear headphones are often preferred to in-ear headphones, as they provide better sound, and are more comfortable.

For more technical tips, including lighting, read this twitter thread – it’s worth it! Remember to think about accessibility options.

Podcasts can be useful. A podcast is a carefully designed audio file- the advantage of it is it can be downloaded, and listened to offline using your browser. There’s a list of podcasts designed for each specialty here, but the only one you really need is RCEMLearning! Getting a podcast “right” is a lot more work than you realise. You’ll need to explain complicated concepts using audio only, and engage with your non existent audience. We obviously think the RCEMLearning podcasts are fabulous – they took a while to develop their “style”. There’s a summary overview from The Clinical Teacher here, and the RCEM team are always happy to offer tips. Have a look at the “getting started” guide from one of our recent digital learning days here.

Creating learning videos can be good. They take a lot of time to do well. You can audio record/ narrate a powerpoint and turn it into a video but remember – a bad non-virtual session doesn’t automatically become good. If you are planning on just recording webinairs, think carefully about making sure your background etc. is professional and tidy – as you would in a virtual meeting.

Open broadcast software is a great program that allows you to film yourself visually and audibly whilst also sharing screens. Its explained really well here.

4. Timing

Having a virtual session for 60 minutes is tricky. It’s better to aim for 3 x 20 minute sessions to keep the attention span going.

There are two broad categories of e-learning:
synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous would be the easiest method of learning to create. This is where all learners are present at the same time, although not in the same geographical state. This means that the tutor can easily answer any questions at the same time. The learners can construct their knowledge through interaction with the other learners – much like in a classroom. This method of learning rarely negates the disadvantages of the classroom – that of scheduling, and that of the lecture being a poor tool for knowledge transfer.

The webinair is one of the traditional methods of synchronous learning, and that has a knack to it. Firstly, you need to gain the attention of your audience.

If you deliver synchronous teaching you’ll need to consider your workstation layout, and how to adjust your “standard” presentation for a virtual delivery. I refer you to point two above, and suggest you look here for tips.

Asynchronous learning solves the problem of scheduling, and in my opinion, would be the best route forward. There are many different methods and platforms to do this. They would require a significant “set – up” time to design the course, and they would still require moderators to “check in” to add “trusted wisdom” to the otherwise self curated discussions of the group.

5. Interactivity

Your interactivity is important – its what drives content being “transformational” rather than just a substitute. This is really hard to do. If you’re planning synchronous learning through Zoom or Teams, the chat feature, or running through the video screens might be useful. Many people find that virtual learning is more conducive to “speaking up“, but pre-recorded doesn’t mean good, and live doesn’t mean bad.

If you’re planning asynchronous learning, interactivity is really hard. Any interactivity needs to have a point. Clicking and dragging the order of priorities in resuscitation isn’t important – everyone knows it’s ABC.
Social interaction is really important here to construct knowledge. Something like “discuss in a group to create an infographic”, or have a debate, or create a podcast, or something. Your groups may be listening to this at a set time, making it semi- synchronous, so group tasks can be set.

Games might be useful – remember, they have to have a point. Some examples here from EM3 here. You might want to make a GIF.

If you’re planning synchronous learning, how will you reduce distractions for your team? Ross Fisher discusses this more on his blog post, (with plenty more on online here) and has also highlighted some more tips on engagement, and more from this paper – why not stick a postit note smiley face somewhere, so you know where to look?

6. Which Platform?

You’re probably designing e-learning as part of a wider organisation that’s already decided which platform to use.

An e-learning platform is the name given to the many platforms that display information in way to enhance learning. They range from the standard to the fully customised (like RCEMLearning) and from the free to the expensive.

They key uniting factor in all of these “good sites” is the ability to socially interact, and construct further knowledge. Having an awareness of the options out there, and how other sites create that feeling of unity helps to guide your decision making:

Future learn is a free resource which hosts many e-learning programmes. The learner experience is social, easy, asynchronous, and effective.
Have a look at this resource on teaching pedagogy for expert educators. It’s a great example of how there can be more knowledge built when you encourage discussion, and is worth a look at.

Change School uses another similar e-learning platform, building on a community, a social movement for change. They distribute lots of information, in lots of “social” ways – thoroughly utilising Twitter, Facebook and their well designed website. They encourage really strong knowledge construction thats framed by their e-learning site, and contributed too by all the other forms of social media support. The change school methodology is sound, although their platform appears to be custom built.

Google classroom is an example of asynchronous learning, where students learn at their own pace. The interaction is easy, especially as most students already have a google account. The interface is not very intuitive, but setting up “lessons” is quick and easy. Google classroom includes the storage space to store all your materials, making this even easier. If you’d like to see it in action, join using the code v6yoz5.

Moodle is another popular classroom. It can easily be personalised to make an easy to use environment. It forms the basis of many “official” e-learning sessions like the ALS and ATLS sessions. It’s still easy to use, but harder to create the initial set up. Moodle is free, but requires storage space for all the materials to be on.

Articulate is another package commonly used to design e-learning. We all know Powerpoint lacks pedagogical soundness, and articulate is little better. This isn’t a package in itself, but a way of creating free flowing presentations. It requires a licence per computer, and is expensive.

For synchronous learning where everyone is listening to the same thing at the same time, your choices are mostly teams, zoom and facetime. You may or may not have a choice on which platform you use but make sure you, and your learners, know how to use it – zoom breakout room instructions here.

7. Infographics

An infographic is data sorted, arranged and presented visually. It needs to have a main event – a previously unknown piece off information, which will be the dominant visual point of the infographic. It’s the information which separates a “graphic” from an “infographic”. There’s lots of infographics available to review – you only need to type in “RCEMLearning Infographic” to get huge – but have a look at coolinfographics, GREPMed and BMJ infographics for more inspiration, as well as this twitter thread.

Probably the best known infographic is the London tube map. The data has been very sorted, and is very easy to look at, and engage with. A really good medical example is EM3’s “diagnosing DKA in adults” – it is easy to look at, with a bold, clear title, and clearly shows that you need all three criteria, not just one.

The layout is important. Like taking photographs, it’s easier to create infographics with some sort of grids and frames, to help the eyes follow and track. Look at this asthma infographic – nice, flowing lines.

Colours and fonts are important. You need some contrast, but some complementary colours. Yellow on orange is never going to work! Some surprising colour combinations work – who would have thought red on yellow would be visible. But the red strongly implies that there is harm, and you should stop. Have a look at this blog on colour.

But the infographic should always be more than just coloured text. The information can come from many sources – look at this Kloss and Bruce “man on the toilet” picture – you don’t need the “vomiting” label to know that the patient is vomiting – the information comes from the graphic.


So… how do you create your infographics? The design is the key bit – the computer software just makes it easier. I (Charlotte) grew up with CorelDraw, so I like using it. It’s a bit like publisher – but I know how to use it better! Lots of people use Canva. Nigel probably uses something whizzier. The focus is on the completed infographic, not the process to get there.

The pictures might need adjusting – to remove the background look here

These are just a few of our top tips. RCEMLearning has a few education tips – why not have a look at our other resources. There’s promise of an infographic course coming soon from Strata5/ The Resus room… sign up here to hear about it – we’re really hoping it will be fabulous!


Further RCEM Reading

Further Reading

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