Distance learning’s 4 pros, 5 cons in radiology education

Challenged by the COVID pandemic to “match pedagogy with purpose,” many radiology educators have tapped technology to help keep residents from falling behind.

A report published May 10 in Academic Radiology analyzes the resulting strategies and anticipated outcomes.

Written by eight members of the “COVID: Faculty Perspective” task force of the Association of University Radiologists Radiology Research Alliance, the paper discusses subtopics as broad as modern learning theory and as specific as PACS-based learning.

Along the way, the ups and downs of distance learning get a dedicated look.

Exchanging passivity for interactivity

“Radiology education is well suited to blended learning with both in-person and virtual components,” write lead author Morgan McBee, MD, of the Medical University of South Carolina, senior author Judah Burns, MD, of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and colleagues.


Medical school clerkships already reflect this shift, decreasing passive in-person experiences and emphasizing more autonomous and web-based interactive tools. Understanding the aim of various content-delivery strategies helps to define the curricular and connecting needs that technology tools can fill.”

The authors urge radiology faculty who use distance learning to emphasize several tenets of efficacious education. These include continuous communication and clear expectations, along with sound integration of digital tools with personal check-ins.

“Educators must recognize the real potential for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and adapt to the reality that remote delivery of typical instruction can turn passive without considerable efforts to institute active learning strategies,” they warn. “Attention to the progress of learners is difficult when face-to-face interaction is limited, requiring active assessment tools and deliberate follow-up questioning.”

‘Easy’ distance learning not without complications

Whittling their observations to two summary lists, the task force offers this view of distance radiology learning’s pros and cons:


  • Easy accessibility/increased attendance
  • Increased time efficiency
  • Engagement across multiple centers/geographic diversity
  • Leveraging technical innovations and archival capacity


  • Decreased engagement and accountability
  • Interruptions due to lag in large group discussions
  • Reliance on robust internet connectivity and devices
  • Loss of mentorship between residents and faculty
  • Loss of team cohesion

“Despite the limitations of remote interaction, many educational advantages were recognized [during the pandemic] that can be leveraged in developing distance learning paradigms,” the authors conclude. “Trainees benefit from regular contact with experts through invited and online lectures and can participate in a wider range of networking opportunities.”


Careful identification and selection of the most appropriate tools and strategies enhances both remote and in-person interactions between faculty and students at all levels. The specific strategies employed should match modern learning science, enabling both students and educators to mutually grow as lifelong learners.”

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