A new study shows that online education is effective for health-care professionals.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed more than 200 studies about Internet-based instruction. The researchers concluded that Internet-based instruction is associated with large learning gains compared with no instruction. The research also showed that Internet-based instruction compared favorably to traditional instructional methods.

“Our findings suggest that Internet-based instruction is an effective way to teach health care professionals,” says lead author David Cook, M.D., an associate professor of medicine. “We now can confirm that, across a wide variety of learners, learning contexts, clinical topics, and learning outcomes, Internet-based instruction can be as effective as traditional methods.”

There has been debate in recent years with the massage field about the efficacy of online education versus hands-on learning, with most experts indicating that some classes, such as marketing and anatomy, may be learned online, while palpation skills and strokes should be confined to brick-and-mortar classrooms. An increasing number of continuing education classes are offered online.

Dr. Cook also notes that Internet-based instruction has unique advantages, including flexible scheduling, adaptability of instruction, and readily available content that is easily updated. “As health care workers balance challenging practice demands, the ever-expanding volume of medical knowledge requires us to find more effective, efficient ways to learn,” says Dr. Cook. “Internet-based instruction will be an important part of the solution.”

The study was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.