Background: In response to challenges to faculty development (e.g. time away from clinical, teaching, and other responsibilities; lack of mentors; and limited resources) online learning has become an important venue to provide education for physicians in curriculum development, instruction, assessment, evaluation, educational leadership, and education scholarship. Online learning however has its own unique challenges. Little is known about clinician-educators' experiences while participating in online programs and few studies have focused on their approaches to facilitate online learning. Aim: To explore the experiences of physicians pursuing a degree in higher education with online learning, including motivations for choosing this format, barriers encountered, and ideas for facilitating learning in the online environment. Method: All students (n = 71) enrolled in online courses in the University of Illinois at Chicago Masters of Health Profession Education Program were surveyed in the spring of 2006. Responses were analysed using a qualitative approach. Results: Of the 48 students who completed the survey (response rate 68%) 45 (94%) were physicians. The online format is convenient, flexible, and may be beneficial for learning. Students' responses raise issues inherent to online learning that must be addressed to optimize student-centered learning. These issues relate to: clarity of communication; difficulties in negotiating team work and in building relationships; technical demands; learning style preferences, and time commitment. Students provided recommendations for strategies to address these issues such as how to communicate clearly, facilitate teamwork, and optimize time management. Member checking supported the analysis. Conclusions: Online education programs meet the needs of physicians but have associated challenges. Further research is needed to explore the potential value of student suggested ways to optimize the online learning experience.
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