Logged On For Online Learning: COVID-19 Supercharged Industry Adoption of Digital Education, But is the Trend Here to Stay?

by Lou Shuman, DMD, CAGS, CEO and Founder of Cellerant Consulting

Being asked to quarantine throughout much of 2020 reshaped much of our common life together, including how we as clinicians pursue continuing education. As we all continue the transition out of “crisis mode” toward the “new normal,” I wanted to sit down with two people who had a front-row seat to dentists’ changing habits and preferences around online CE: Phil and Eric Klein, CEO and COO of Viva Learning, an industry-wide dental continuing education platform. It seems like every dental journal, company and association is clamoring to claim a piece of the online education pie, but Viva is one of the few organizations with a true long-view of this trend and how the COVID-specific dynamics will impact the profession. In this interview, I ask them to move from education provider to teacher, and share some of what they’ve seen in the past year.

Lou Shuman: Gentlemen, I have followed your work for some time, but in a recent presentation you piqued my interest when you showed charts and data reflecting audience engagement over the last several months. I think you have something to teach us about how community perceptions and behaviour around digital learning is changing.

Eric Klein: Yes! We had about 40,000 unique visitors per month before COVID and it jumped up to 250,000 during the lockdown period. Today, we fluctuate between 75 and 80,000. One part of this story is, of course, the COVID-related content we offered. Phil recognized early on that we needed to not only make the content prominent, but also really strong. He worked with our top KOLs, infection control experts and different industry leaders to produce this content through webinars and podcasts. That took off and, at one of the high points we had something like 700 new sign-ups a day. It was unbelievable.

The other factor, of course, was the cancellation of in-person events that people are accustomed to. COVID was an opportunity for them to learn how easy online learning can be, and they’ve stuck around. Some of our traffic were existing subscribers who were more active, but the majority were brand new people.

Phil Klein: What is most compelling to me is how the data reflects a change in how we learn – that traffic didn’t just go back to its original state. What this year has introduced around quality online education is something that will stay with us going forward.

Pre-COVID, we were seeing an upward trend of engagement and new accounts being created. Questions were about our accreditation with different states, or if the sessions counted as “live interactive.” In the 18 months before the pandemic, our support emails were tripling. You could say these learners were already jogging around the track and COVID forced them to speed up.

LS: If you asked the average person, pre-COVID, “What is Zoom?” a few people may have known. After lockdown, it’s become its own verb. People realize it is a way of life. That’s exactly what I see happening with Viva and virtual learning. You are proof that this is going to become a foundation of how we interact in the dental community.

PK: Absolutely. Early on, some of the pushback from manufacturers who sponsor our CE were concerned that the audience would be all young people, just out of dental school. Even pre-pandemic, but certainly now, that just isn’t the case. We’re seeing many people in their 50s and early 60s who are using Viva Learning.

What’s been interesting to observe is not just the age range, but how younger users are logging in from unexpected platforms. For example, about 40% of the interaction that we get on live CE webinars is through a cell phone – that’s incredible. We have dental professionals typing in questions to the speaker while they’re on a walk, addressing that speaker while they’re out with their dog. That’s where we are right now.