Dentists embraced online education in 2020
LEIPZIG, Germany: Not all of the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic have been negative. Social distancing measures and travel restrictions effectively pushed dental education online in 2020, and more dentists earned continuing education (CE) credits through webinars and online events than in any previous year. As 2020 comes to a close, it seems likely that dental teams and dental education providers will continue to favour online education—owing to the convenience and ease of access that it offers—even in a post-pandemic environment.
Dental Tribune International (DTI) reported in July that a great number of new online education platforms had been launched, and that these platforms had quickly changed the dental learning landscape. The concept behind this long list of new online dental platforms is universal: providing dental teams with timely and convenient access to informative educational resources, regardless of where participants are based and what health restrictions are in place in their localities.
The numbers tell the story. The Straumann Group hosted two online education events in May through its Straumann Campus platform—the Virtual Immediacy and Virtual Immediacy Essentials symposia received at least 2,500 and 2,800 registrations, respectively. Later that month, 16,000 registrations were received from participants in 126 countries for the Ivoclar Vivadent International Expert Symposium, which had been set to take place in Paris in France. Close to 10,000 dental professionals registered for 3Shape’s June 24H Global Symposium. When GC Europe held its first International MI Congress online on 20 June it received 5,700 registrations. The minimum intervention dentistry conference had been scheduled to take place in Barcelona in Spain.
“E-learning has assumed a pivotal role for many businesses across different industries and, naturally, the same has happened within the dental industry”
– Lars Christian Lund, 3Shape
In September, an average of 2,700 dental professionals registered each day for a week-long virtual learning event hosted on the Straumann Campus. And Osstell launched its own online campus in September when it hosted the Osstell ISQ Online Symposium with 1,800 participants. As recently as October, daily registrations topped 1,000 for a five-day online symposium on molar incisor hypomineralisation, hosted by GC Germany.
Lars Christian Lund, senior vice president of corporate business development and marketing at 3Shape, commented that the pandemic has quickened the pace of a change that had already been underway. Lund told DTI that even before the outbreak dental teams were showing increasing interest in receiving training and support without having to leave their practices. He explained: “The pandemic has just sped this process up, due to the gap left by in-person events. E-learning has assumed a pivotal role for many businesses across different industries and, naturally, the same has happened within the dental industry.”
All of the events and company campuses webinars listed above were organised and hosted in collaboration with DTI, which utilised its own DT Study Club as a blueprint for success in the expansion of online dental education during the pandemic. DT Study Club alone has hosted dozens of webinars for a worldwide audience of dental professionals since the pandemic began.
Online dental education is more than an alternative
“The registration numbers speak for themselves,” commented DTI CEO Torsten Oemus in July. According to Oemus, the success of online events during the pandemic shows that they are not a compromise for in-person events which cannot take place, but a “real and maybe even better alternative in today’s digitalised world”.
GC Europe began hosting its first webinars in 2013 and the company has long held the belief that online education would eventually become a substantial part of its business. Since these early beginnings, the company has collaborated with DTI in the production of more than 60 webinars and has gained extensive experience in online dental education. Ward Gerets, GC Europe’s manager of marketing, communications and services, told DTI: “E-learning is a valid alternative because of the much bigger reach you have compared with live events.” He commented that meeting participants in person can help to create stronger working relationships, but that general satisfaction with e-learning platforms was high—as evidenced by feedback that the company received from its online events in 2020. “The reactions we received in the surveys showed that customers valued this kind of approach to dental education. Our speakers appreciated the fact that we were able to help them disseminate their expert knowledge to a wider audience,” Gerets said.
“The reactions we received in the surveys showed that customers valued this kind of approach to dental education”
– Ward Gerets, GC Europe
3Shape’s 24H Global Symposium—a novel 24-hour webinar that pushed the envelope for online dental education events—was a huge success, according to Lund, and a valuable alternative to a live event. He said: “With COVID-19 resulting in restrictions on travelling, gatherings, and basically disrupting traditional conferences and trade shows, the online avenue was a great way for us to continue engaging with the dental community.”
By now it is also clear that online education also offers business opportunities. Lund told DTI that 3Shape’s online events in 2020 had enabled it to exceed lead generation targets, and to reduce costs. Earlier in the year, Straumann Group CEO Guillaume Daniellot told analysts that the company had utilised initial lockdown periods to gain new customers and train existing ones through its Straumann Campus platform. Guillaume said that by mid-May, Straumann’s online educational initiatives had generated more than 200,000 online visits, and at least 20,000 customer leads.
The future of dental education
DTI reported in December that a number of in-person dental events have been confirmed for 2021, but that much will depend on the success of SARS-CoV-2 inoculation campaigns. Dr Gary Severance, executive director of professional relations at Henry Schein, told DTI that the success of vaccines will require both widespread implementation and public acceptance. “Until there is a vaccine that is effective, readily available and broadly accepted, we anticipate a continued shift from the traditional in-person experience to online, virtual events,” Severance said.
And yet optimism remains. Having held its DS World 2020 event online in November, Dentsply Sirona has confirmed that DS World 2021 will be hosted at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas from 23 to 25 September next year.
Lund said that 3Shape will continue to focus on online events in 2021. “I believe that next year we will see a gradual decline in the pandemic, especially once the vaccines are out and available to the general population. For 3Shape as a business, the focus will primarily be digital events, which means that dental education will continue to be offered only online.” He added: “In the second half of the year, we might see some physical events and classroom training coming back.”
According to Gerets, the changes that dental education has undergone in 2020 point towards a digital future—at least in part. The pandemic has certainly changed the landscape of e-learning in dentistry,” he said. “It has shown all parties that the combined approach of live and online education will be the way to organise continuing education in the future.”
Editorial note: Recordings of lectures and webinars are available online for those who missed live events.