The learning objectives, curriculum content, and assessment standards for distributed medical education programs must be aligned across the health care systems and community contexts in which their students train. In this article, the authors describe their experiences at Monash University implementing a distributed medical education program at metropolitan, regional, and rural Australian sites and an offshore Malaysian site, using four different implementation models. Standardizing learning objectives, curriculum content, and assessment standards across all sites while allowing for site-specific implementation models created challenges for educational alignment. At the same time, this diversity created opportunities to customize the curriculum to fit a variety of settings and for innovations that have enriched the educational system as a whole.
Developing these distributed medical education programs required a detailed review of Monash’s learning objectives and curriculum content and their relevance to the four different sites. It also required a review of assessment methods to ensure an identical and equitable system of assessment for students at all sites. It additionally demanded changes to the systems of governance and the management of the educational program away from a centrally constructed and mandated curriculum to more collaborative approaches to curriculum design and implementation involving discipline leaders at multiple sites.
Distributed medical education programs, like that at Monash, in which cohorts of students undertake the same curriculum in different contexts, provide potentially powerful research platforms to compare different pedagogical approaches to medical education and the impact of context on learning outcomes.