Beyond the Textbook: How Digital Media Enhances Learning

Boston University anesthesiologist Rafael Ortega, M.D., believes that creating digital content means much more than just posting a pdf of a textbook online. True multimedia content is designed to be interactive and digital from the inception. Ortega and five colleagues did just that when they created the first fully interactive, mobile edition of the authoritative text in their field—Barash’s Clinical Anesthesia. Listen in as Ortega describes how moving images, sound, richness in color make a multimedia media experience more powerful, learner-centered, and most important of all . . . enjoyable.


Announcer: Asking questions, seeking perspectives, searching for answers. Algorithms for Innovation, live from Philadelphia at the AAMC 2013.

Ortega: My name is Rafael Ortega. I'm a physician at the Boston University School of Medicine, practicing anesthesiologists, Vice-chair for Academic Affairs in the Department of Anesthesia. And also the Associate Dean for Diversity and Multi-Cultural Affairs in Medical School.

Albo: Hi, I'm Amy Albo. I'm with the University of Utah Health Sciences, Office of Public Affairs. We've be talking a little bit about the use of digital media in education. What do you think the benefit is for students?

Ortega: There are many benefits when you use multimedia, including the fact that it is a green process. You economize on having to print materials and ink is very expensive. Additionally you don't have the cost of distribution that you would have with a heavier textbook or older printing materials. And when you combine the moving images, the sound and the richness in color, you have a very powerful, very engaging learner centered products.

Albo: You have worked on a textbook that has gone from a very traditional format to a very innovative format. What would you think it will take for other people to make that move?

Ortega: Well it's a generational issue. I don't see any difficulty in the medical students of today or even the residents or younger attendings in adopting iPhones or digital tablets as their learning platform. So I think that it's just a matter of time before many of the leading textbooks are no longer printed. The New England Journal of Medicine for example has already forecasted that in the next decade, they will cease to exist as a printed publication.

Albo: And what do think are some of the barriers that need to be removed to help this sort of evolution move more quickly.

Ortega: There is a learning curve and what has happened over the last few years is that many textbooks were simply reproduced as PDF documents if you will, and that was the attempt to a more, for the printed materials into a digital format. So one of the barriers is to actually understand the design from inception of an interactive digital textbook that capitalizes on the advantages of using digital media.

Albo: Is there any research that shows improved outcomes with these multimedia texts?

Ortega: The research in general points to favorable outcomes. However there is discussion regarding the educational efficiency and educational effectiveness of multimedia versus traditional formats. Well one thing is undeniable that the enjoyment of learning is enhanced with the use of multimedia. So regardless of how effective or how efficient it might be as compared to traditional approach such as a lecture or a printed textbook, most people would report greater enjoyment in the experience of learning using multimedia.

Albo: So we generally don't think of medical school as an enjoyable process sometimes. Is enjoyment a metric we should be using?

Ortega: Of course, otherwise what's the point?

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