Background: With the growing presence of computers and Internet technologies in personal and professional lives, it seems prudent to consider how online learning has been and could be harnessed to promote faculty development. Aims: Discuss advantages and disadvantages of online faculty development, synthesize what is known from studies involving health professions faculty members, and identify next steps for practice and future research. Method: We searched MEDLINE for studies describing online instruction for developing teaching, leadership, and research skills among health professions faculty, and synthesized these in a narrative review. Results: We found 20 articles describing online faculty development initiatives for health professionals, including seven quantitative comparative studies, four studies utilizing defined qualitative methods, and nine descriptive studies reporting anecdotal lessons learned. These programs addressed diverse topics including clinical teaching, educational assessment, business administration, financial planning, and research skills. Most studies enrolled geographically-distant learners located in different cities, provinces, or countries. Evidence suggests that online faculty development is at least comparable to traditional training, but learner engagement and participation is highly variable. It appears that success is more likely when the course addresses a relevant need, facilitates communication and social interaction, and provides time to complete course activities. Conclusions: Although we identified several practical recommendations for success, the evidence base for online faculty development is sparse and insubstantial. Future research should include rigorous, programmatic, qualitative and quantitative investigations to understand the principles that govern faculty member engagement and success.
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