Many of the educational projects I've been involved in have employed some form of semi-automatic e-mail communication to encourage participation from learners.
It was interesting to read some recent papers that have looked at the relationship between engagement and e-mail communication. E-mail clearly has some efficacy but many questions remain. Is it the interactive nature of the content - perhaps in the form of clinical case problems (1) - or is it simply the critical timing of the reminder in the working week (2)? Is it the 'spacing effect' of the reminders with cycles of repetition built into the programme (3)?
There is evidence that email is effective in patient education in the form of weekly and monthly personalised emails (4). Some have even looked at assessing e-mail competencies of clinicians (5).
1. Kerfoot BP, Lawler EV, Sokolovskaya G, Gagnon D, Conlin PR. Durable improvements in prostate cancer screening from online spaced education a randomized controlled trial. Am J Prev Med. 2010;39(5):472-478. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20965387. Accessed April 13, 2011.
2. Houston TK, Coley HL, Sadasivam RS, et al. Impact of content-specific email reminders on provider participation in an online intervention: a dental PBRN study. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2010;160(Pt 2):801-805. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20841796. Accessed April 24, 2011.
3. Kerfoot BP, Fu Y, Baker H, et al. Online spaced education generates transfer and improves long-term retention of diagnostic skills: a randomized controlled trial. J. Am. Coll. Surg. 2010;211(3):331-337.e1. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20800189. Accessed April 24, 2011.
4. Thomas D, Vydelingum V, Lawrence J. E-mail contact as an effective strategy in the maintenance of weight loss in adults. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2011;24(1):32-38. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21114552. Accessed April 24, 2011.
5. Mittal MK, Dhuper S, Siva C, et al. Assessment of email communication skills of rheumatology fellows: a pilot study. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2010;17(6):702-706. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20962134. Accessed April 24, 2011.