Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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Can e-learning improve the performance of undergraduate medical students in Clinical Microbiology examinations?

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Background: Clinical Microbiology is a core subject in medical undergraduate curricula. However, students struggle to cover the content and clinically contextualise basic microbiology. Our aim was to evaluate student engagement with new e-learning material and to investigate the impact it had on examination performance in a Clinical Microbiology module.

Methods: An online resource was designed to support didactic teaching in a Fundamentals of Clinical Microbiology module. One cohort of students had access to the online material (2017/2018 class) and the other did not (2016/2017 class). Each cohort sat the same multiple-choice question (MCQ) and short-note question (SNQ) examination papers and the impact of engagement with the online resource and examination performance was analysed.

Results: Both groups were of the same academic standard prior to beginning the module. In the 2017/2018 cohort, 227/309 (73.5%) students had ≥80% engagement with the content. Students engaged most with the index of pathogens and pathogen focused clinical cases related to diverse genera and families of clinically important microorganisms. A statistically higher difference in the mean percentage grade in both the MCQ and SNQ examinations was seen for 2017/2018 compared to 2016/2017 cohort. For the MCQ examination, the 2017/2018 cohort were on average 5.57% (95% confidence interval (CI): 3.92 to 7.24%; P < 0.001) higher, and for the SNQ examination the 2017/2018 cohort were on average 2.08% (95% CI: 0.74 to 3.41%; P = 0.02) higher. When the results were adjusted for previous examination performance, for every percentage increase in online engagement the grade in the SNQ examination only increased by 0.05% (95% CI: 0.02 to 0.08) on average.

Conclusions: These findings suggest students engage with e-learning when studying and that such activities may help students perform better in assessments.



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Published Citation

Stevens NT, Holmes K, Grainger RJ, Connolly R, Prior A-R, Fitzpatrick F, O'Neill E, Boland F, Pawlikowska T, Humphreys H. Can e-learning improve the performance of undergraduate medical students in Clinical Microbiology examinations? BMC Medical Education 2019;19:408

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PubMed ID



  • Clinical Microbiology
  • Beaumont Hospital
  • Data Science Centre
  • Health Professions Education Centre


BioMed Central


  • Published Version (Version of Record)