Teaching psychomotor skills online: exploring the implications of novel coronavirus on health professions education


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Amy E Seymour-Walsh1
PhD, Lecturer, Clinical Educator Development *

Anthony Weber2 MHlthSci, Deputy Dean (Learning and Teaching) and Senior Lecturer, Paramedic Science

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Andy Bell3
MEd, Lecturer, Paramedicine

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Tony Smith4
PhD, Academic Lead (Research)


1 College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Sturt Rd, Bedford Park, SA 5042, Australia

2 School of Business and Law, Central Queensland University, Bruce Highway, Rockhampton, Qld 4701, Australia

3 School of Health and Wellbeing, University of Southern Queensland, 11 Salisbury Rd, Ipswich, Qld 4305, Australia

4 Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle, 69a High Street, Taree, NSW 2430, Australia

ACCEPTED: 16 September 2020

early abstract:

Context: The safe and effective application of psychomotor skills in the clinical environment is a central pillar of the health professions. The current global coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted health professions education (HPE) and has been of particular consequence for routine face-to-face skill education for health professionals and clinical students worldwide. What is being experienced on an unprecedented scale parallels a problem familiar to regional, rural and remote (RRR) health professionals and students: the learners are willing, and the educational expertise exists, but the two are separated by the tyranny of distance. This article considers how the problem of physical distance might be overcome, so that quality skill education might continue.
Issues: Psychomotor skills are undeniably easier to teach and learn face-to-face (F2F), and training schedules in tertiary, in-service, and accredited professional courses reflect this. This aspect of HPE is therefore at significant risk in the context of social distancing and physical isolation. Psychomotor skills are much more complex than the physical motor outputs alone might suggest, and a F2F skill session is only one way to build the complementary aspects of new skill performance. This article argues that educators and course designers can progress with psychomotor skill education from a physical distance.
Lessons: Videos can either be used either to passively present content to learners or to actively engage them. It is the design of the educational activity, rather than the resource medium itself, which enables active engagement. Furthermore, while many training schedules have been adapted to accommodate intensive F2F skill training once it is safe to do so, distributed practice and the need for reflection during the acquisition and development of new skills may challenge the pedagogical effectiveness of this approach. Skill development can be fostered in the absence of F2F teaching, and in the absence of a shared physical space. Embracing the creative licence to do so will improve equitable access to RRR clinicians and students well beyond the resolution of the current pandemic.