Journal Article
. 2021 Mar; 7(1):e13681.
doi: 10.2196/13681.

Exploring the Cost of eLearning in Health Professions Education: Scoping Review

Edward Meinert 1 Jessie Eerens 1 Christina Banks 1 Stephen Maloney 2 George Rivers 3 Dragan Ilic 4 Kieran Walsh 5 Azeem Majeed 1 Josip Car 1 
  • PMID: 33704073
  •     70 References


Background: Existing research on the costs associated with the design and deployment of eLearning in health professions education is limited. The relative costs of these learning platforms to those of face-to-face learning are also not well understood. The lack of predefined costing models used for eLearning cost data capture has made it difficult to complete cost evaluation.

Objective: The key aim of this scoping review was to explore the state of evidence concerning cost capture within eLearning in health professions education. The review explores the available data to define cost calculations related to eLearning.

Methods: The scoping review was performed using a search strategy with Medical Subject Heading terms and related keywords centered on eLearning and cost calculation with a population scope of health professionals in all countries. The search was limited to articles published in English. No restriction was placed on literature publication date.

Results: In total, 7344 articles were returned from the original search of the literature. Of these, 232 were relevant to associated keywords or abstract references following screening. Full-text review resulted in 168 studies being excluded. Of these, 61 studies were excluded because they were unrelated to eLearning and focused on general education. In addition, 103 studies were excluded because of lack of detailed information regarding costs; these studies referred to cost in ways either indicating cost favorability or unfavorability, but without data to support findings. Finally, 4 studies were excluded because of limited cost data that were insufficient for analysis. In total, 42 studies provided data and analysis of the impact of cost and value in health professions education. The most common data source was total cost of training (n=29). Other sources included cost per learner, referring to the cost for individual students (n=13). The population most frequently cited was medical students (n=15), although 12 articles focused on multiple populations. A further 22 studies provide details of costing approaches for the production and delivery of eLearning. These studies offer insight into the ways eLearning has been budgeted and project-managed through implementation.

Conclusions: Although cost is a recognized factor in studies detailing eLearning design and implementation, the way cost is captured is inconsistent. Despite a perception that eLearning is more cost-effective than face-to-face instruction, there is not yet sufficient evidence to assert this conclusively. A rigorous, repeatable data capture method is needed, in addition to a means to leverage existing economic evaluation methods that can then test eLearning cost-effectiveness and how to implement eLearning with cost benefits and advantages over traditional instruction.

Keywords: costs and cost analysis; distance education; economics; education; online education; online learning; professional education.

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