Reviewed By: Heather Campbell, Marisa Eytalis, Gloria Nguyen, Bracha Schefres, Stacy Sorrells
Article synopsis and core research question
Nichola Pearce-Smith (2006) conducted a study to answer her main research question: Is there a significant difference between self-directed learning using web-based resources and learning in a traditional classroom-based workshop for healthcare professionals trying to improve their database searching skills? Her objective was to test two different null hypotheses: 1) There is no difference between the two interventions being compared, and 2) That there would be no difference before and after either educational intervention.
Recognizing that searching for evidence is an essential job skill that healthcare professionals need to have, and trainings are thought to improve their skills, Pearce-Smith’s literature review could only find some evidence of that and most studies were “small and methodologically poor” (p. 45). This study was published in 2006, so there was not a lot of evidence showing the effects of e-learning and whether or not it improves knowledge in health care professionals. She did find one qualitative study that found no differences between two groups who participated in workshops versus e-learning. Since the literature on this subject was not evident, the author designed and conducted her research study between September 2004 and September 2005.
Methods used to answer the research question
The methods used in this study was a controlled trial of 17 health care professionals randomized into two groups. The study population was a convenience sample drawn from the Oxfordshire Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust (ORHT) and recruited via an invitation letter by mail or email from the Trust’s intranet and email list or elicited through posters and leaflets displayed throughout the hospital. Researcher acknowledged that participants might have been more inclined to volunteer for the trial since they may wish to learn or improve their searching skills. In order to be included in the study, participants must work within ORHT and have access to the Internet. To test both null hypotheses, participants were randomized into two groups using computer-generated random numbers. Both groups completed a search exercise before the training to get a baseline of their ability and another after training to measure if any improvement was achieved. The first group (WG) attended a two-hour search skills workshop conducted by a librarian while the second group (EG) were shown how to access the online learning module which included question formulation, study design, free text thesaurus and Boolean searching training, and examples of searching PubMed and Cochrane Library.
Findings and conclusions
The study found that while there was a slight increase in the knowledge and search skills of each group, this increase was not significant. Also, while the workshop group did perform better at devising a search strategy, there was no other notable difference in the improvement between the two groups answering the first null hypothesis. The second null hypothesis, that there would not be a difference between the knowledge and search skills of either group after the online or workshop training, was accepted.
While the second null hypothesis was accepted, the results were largely inconclusive due to the small sample size. Several factors contributed to the lack of participation. The initial research question is still an important one, and the authors hope that others will build off of their research and methodology to explore this topic further.
Unanswered questions you have and what future research might address
More than once the author/researcher pointed out that the results of this study are inconclusive due to the small sample size. Contributing factors to the small sample size and inconclusive results were that compensation was not provided to the participants, clinical staff participants are generally hard to acquire, and a second test search skills test administered at a later day may reveal true search skill retention. The author/researcher provides her suggestions to gain significant results which include, seeking participants early, providing compensation “use different contact methods” and make “inclusion criteria as wide as possible.”
Collaboration with library staff to conduct this type of study is necessary and once established, along with the e-learning course, a longer study period may be possible. The librarian(s) could collect participant data, provide consent forms and pre-intervention tests (to find or willing participants and the researcher could obtain the extant data at a later date/once the (WG) group reaches a larger number. The researcher can also obtain the e-learning information on demand and postpone the second round of testing (in a clinical setting) once a larger number of study participants has been reached. Stratified randomization could then be used to analyze a larger participant group. Another possible question would be to find out how accessibility was addressed/accommodated (i.e. language barriers) for this study?
A thoughtful attempt to answer your own questions
Is there a significant difference between self-directed learning using web-based resources and learning in a traditional classroom-based workshop for healthcare professionals trying to improve their database searching skills? The author’s objective was to test two different insignificant theories and ultimately, there are no differences between the knowledge and search skills of either group after the online or workshop training.
The other question raised was due to the limited number of participants, how was accessibility addressed for this study? Since the study was easier to maneuver with such a small sample group, the accessibility of the study was more attainable. The author designed the online learning resource, and this was made available on the web, and it was password protected so that only EG participants could access it. The content included question formulation, study design, free text, thesaurus and Boolean searching. An experienced librarian, who used methods such as presentations, live Internet demonstrations, and interactive group work, taught the WG.
Lastly, how would the sample group be increased from being a small group to a larger sample group? Health professionals could have been encouraged to participate by offering incentives such as prizes: book tokens, wine, free passes to festivals, gift cards, etc. Another thing could have been more funding, like any other study or research, there are monetary funds that need to be utilized to complete a successful research. Web-based resources are costly, and not everyone can have easy access to such materials.
Pearce-Smith, N. (2006). A randomized controlled trial comparing the effect of E-learning, with a taught workshop, on the knowledge and search skills of health professionals. Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice. 1:(3), 44-56.