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Rapid Communications

Professional Development of Health Researchers During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges and Prospects of Synchronous Online Learning

Sujon, Hasnat MBBS; Uzzaman, Md Nazim MBBS, MPH; Banu, Shakila MBBS, MSc; Islam, Mohammod Rafiqul BBA, MBA; Asaduzzaman, Mohammad BSc; Ahmed, Armana MBA; Uddin, Aftab MBBS, MPhil, MMedEd; Sarker, Mohammad Habibur Rahman MBBS, MPH

Author Information
Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions: Winter 2022 - Volume 42 - Issue 1 - p e1-e2
doi: 10.1097/CEH.0000000000000407
  • Open

Continuing professional development is essential to build and maintain a high-quality workforce for any organization. icddr,b is an international research organization based in Bangladesh, which strives to solve key public health challenges through scientific research and innovation.1 Since 1978, icddr,b has been providing capacity building training and research opportunities to health care and allied professionals from Bangladesh and overseas. Traditionally training was delivered face-to-face (f2f), but as the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged icddr,b's activities including the scientific and professional development training, four existing research capacity building f2f courses were transformed and delivered online using the same course contents. In this rapid communication, we reflect on our experience of the process, the challenges and enablers that we encountered, and the value of synchronous online learning.

Why Did We Organize the Online Training?

Online learning, depending on the timeliness of interaction, is of two modalities: synchronous and asynchronous. Before COVID-19, icddr,b has been building skills and competencies of early-career researchers through in-house training by f2f and blended (f2f + asynchronous online learning) approach. There was a strong impetus to find and implement a suitable “pandemic pedagogy”2 following the “stay at home” order of the Government of Bangladesh and subsequent “work from home” policy of icddr,b. Self-paced learning at a convenient time is generally seen as a strength of asynchronous training.3 However, trainers' active engagement with trainees is crucial,4 which can be achieved through synchronous training. Furthermore, developing an online module for asynchronous learning requires considerable time and resources, which could slow down our response during the pandemic. Considering the practicality and nature of the courses, we opted for synchronous online learning.

How Did We Organize the Online Training?

From May to August 2020, based on needs assessment, we transformed four f2f courses into online: scientific article writing, research protocol development, results-based management, and good clinical practice. We enrolled an average of 25 trainees in each course for easy interaction among trainers and trainees. We used our dedicated training management portal ( for course advertisement, application, enrollment, evaluation and feedback, and sharing course contents and “Zoom” of Zoom Video Communications, Inc. to host synchronous sessions that could be accessed from anywhere.5 The total duration of each course was 24 hours delivered over three working days. Trainers delivering each session were supported by a course coordinator and an information technology expert, who familiarized them with the technical aspects of delivering a synchronous learning activity. A pool of trainers of icddr,b who have profound expertise in facilitating face-to-face training in the relevant areas conducted the online sessions. Before each training, a meeting with trainers was arranged to familiarize them on the use of different aspects of Zoom such as screen sharing, breakout room, polling, etc.

Each training commenced with a half an hour session to orient trainees on the online platform. To make the sessions interactive, most sessions started with a short video, questions, or case studies and ended with a dedicated question–answer session. Trainees could also ask questions anytime by using the “Raise Hand” option or writing the question in the chatbox. The supervised group work was embedded between training days, and the gaps were given considering the complexity of the work. We evaluated these training using both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Pretest and post-test were conducted using multiple-choice questionnaires to assess trainees' knowledge acquisition. After each session, trainees were asked to evaluate the contents and the trainer who conducted that session using the Likert scale. At the end of each course, trainees were asked to evaluate the overall course as well using the same scale. At the closing session, individual trainees were requested for their verbal feedback on the overall course, especially the challenges they faced and the areas of improvement, which were recorded with consent from the trainees.

What Did We Find?

Overall, we had an almost equal number of male and female trainees and more than two-thirds of them had at least a Master's degree. Most trainees appraised the training approach and found the sessions interactive, sometimes even better than f2f training. They liked the equity of not having seating arrangements like the first or last bench and the freedom to ask questions at any point. Some trainees appreciated the private chatting option where their queries were addressed anonymously. Small group work was regarded as the most fruitful session. Trainees mean scores were higher in post-test than pretest (60.5% versus 38.8%) (Table 1).

TABLE 1. - Characteristics of Trainees and Online Courses
Training Name Learning days* Trainees % Pretest Score, Mean (SD) % Post-test Score, Mean (SD) % Trainee Regarded the Online Training as Appropriate
Gender Educational Qualification
Male n (%) Female n (%) Bachelor's Degree n (%) Master's Degree, n (%)
Scientific article writing 3 d (day 1, 2 and 4) 11 (50.0) 11 (50.0) 2 (9.1) 20 (90.9) 31.8 (±14.0) 50.4 (±8.8) 85.0
Research protocol development 3 d (day 1, 2 and 9) 15 (60.0) 10 (40.0) 6 (24.0) 19 (76.0) 50.4 (±12.8) 67.2 (±8.6) 82.9
Results-based management 3 d (day 1, 2 and 6) 17 (58.6) 12 (41.4) 2 (6.9) 27 (93.1) 33.2 (±13.8) 62.4 (±7.6) 91.3
Good clinical practice 3 d (day 1, 2 and 3) 10 (43.5) 13 (56.5) 8 (34.8) 15 (65.2) 40.0 (±20.5) 60.9 (±14.4) 88.9
Total 53 (53.5) 46 (46.5) 18 (18.2) 81 (81.8) 38.8 (±17.0) 60.5 (±11.8) 87.5
*Total duration of each training was 24 hours.
For training delivery and objectives achievement.

A number of trainees who work at field sites for over a decade mentioned that they attended such courses for the first time optimizing the benefit of not relocating from their workplace. Few trainees mentioned that the intense group work and discussions helped relieve their anxiety associated with the pandemic by diverting their minds. Suggested improvements included increasing course duration, reducing training hours per day, and increasing gap between training days.

Challenges We Faced

As strong bandwidth is not available in all areas of Bangladesh, network connectivity remains a major concern, particularly from trainees' end, even when using broadband connection because of power failure. Although all trainers had broadband Internet connection with back-up Internet, for example, cellular data, sometimes sessions were affected for a short duration because of bandwidth variability. In one instance, a trainer's computer suddenly became nonfunctioning during a session. Other challenges include difficulty to interact with trainees while computer screen was shared by trainers, troubles to take part in the MCQ examination by few trainees despite having pretraining orientation about online platform.

Practical Consideration

Trainers need to be oriented and prepared with techniques of online facilitation. Back-up computer/smart devices along with Internet connectivity should be made available for uninterrupted training. Interactive sessions are crucial, particularly in synchronous online training as trainees have the chance to partake in other activities; therefore, the selection of trainers is of paramount importance. Sufficient time depending on the complexity of the assignment and dedicated supervisors need to be ensured for group work. As some trainees may be less oriented with the online platform, adequate instructions should be given at the commencement of training.


Implementation of online training for early-career researchers of icddr,b offers an example for continuing professional development during the COVID-19 pandemic. With few caveats, synchronous online training is an acceptable option if practical strategies are used to engage trainees.

Lessons for Practice

  • ■ Synchronous online learning is a practical option for organizational staff development during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • ■ Back-up Internet and electronic devices need to be made available for uninterrupted training.


The authors are thankful to the trainers for their contribution. icddr,b acknowledges with gratitude the commitment of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to its research and staff development efforts. icddr,b is also grateful to the Governments of Bangladesh, Canada, Sweden, and the UK for providing core/unrestricted support.


1. icddr b icddr,b - about us. Available at: Accessed October 11, 2020.
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3. Harden RM. A new vision for distance learning and continuing medical education. J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2005;25:43–51.
4. Uzzaman MN, Jackson T, Uddin A, et al. Continuing professional education for general practitioners on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: feasibility of a blended learning approach in Bangladesh. BMC Fam Pract. 2020;21:203.
5. Kay D, Pasarica M. Using technology to increase student (and faculty satisfaction with) engagement in medical education. Adv Physiol Educ. 2019;43:408–413.
Copyright © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions, the Association for Hospital Medical Education, and the Society for Academic Continuing Medical Education.