Pushing the boundaries – The medicos who mobilised education

Medicine graduates Professors Colin and Alistair Royse have taken a career pathway emboldened by a big-picture vision that they have coupled with a practical approach.

Professor Alistair Royse and Professor Colin Royse

The brothers have worked together for more than 20 years, sharing a common interest in cardiac surgery while improving education for healthcare professionals.

Always eager to innovate and acquire new skills, Colin (MBBS 1987, MD 2000) went outside his classic training to learn transoesophageal echocardiography (TOE) from cardiologists. He was one of the first anaesthetists to implement this technology intraoperatively in Australia.

Alistair (MBBS 1985, MD 2000) and Colin recognised TOE would become a powerful intraoperative diagnostic tool that allowed for the live assessment of cardiac anatomy and heart performance, providing real-time feedback for surgeons and improving patient outcomes.

“There was a huge momentum of people wanting to use this technology in cardiac surgery, but there was no easy way for anaesthetists to learn,” Colin said. “To address this training gap and improve surgical outcomes we approached the University of Melbourne to support our decision to develop an independent award course.”

Alistair and Colin recognised a traditional method of learning was not going to be practical, sustainable or scalable. As busy healthcare professionals themselves, they understood the time constraints confronting their prospective students.

Their vision of flexible learning, which did not require face-to-face interaction, along with an assessment process that could be automated, proved critical to the evolution of mobile learning.

“We set up eLearning, even though it wasn’t called that at the time; it was called distance learning,” said Alistair. “But all the principles of eLearning were there.”

The first postgraduate diploma echo course was launched in 2004, with contributors sourced from Australia and New Zealand. In its first year, 70 students enrolled in the diploma course, with demand rising year on year.

“The reason we were successful is we removed the barriers to learning and people were hungry for the knowledge,” Colin said.

The pair built on their success, unveiling in 2007 a nested series of clinical ultrasound courses with Certificate, Diploma and Master’s levels available. Through listening and engaging with their customers, Alistair and Colin continued to develop their platform and course structure to suit a mobile learning environment.

“The evolution of mobile learning means learning on the go, and the most likely device you will use is your phone, which means the nature of people’s learning is changing too,” Alistair said.

“Students 10 years ago were likely to complete a long tutorial in front of a computer once a day, whereas now they are likely to spend 5-10 minutes several times a day.” In 2017, Melbourne Medical School approached Alistair and Colin, asking to adopt their mobile learning delivery structure. The Mobile Learning Unit (MLU) was subsequently formed, designed to support academics in creating and delivering portable and flexible continuing professional development courses.

“Mobile learning is about the ability to learn anywhere, in your own time, at your own pace, and while using any device,” Alistair said. “A learning unit can be completed in a matter of minutes and courses can be progressed or suspended, when necessary, to balance learning with other commitments.”

The Unit’s mobile platform and project management expertise has helped a number of passionate experts develop successful education products. They have collaborated with international clients, and clients based at the University of Melbourne in departments ranging from veterinary science, physiotherapy and the Medical School.

“Clients come to us with passion and a swag of ideas, and we help them narrow it down, obtain the right shape and balance, and turn their passion into a successful course product,” said Colin. The brothers’ education enterprise has demanded persistence and conviction over the years, with Alistair and Colin citing their mutual support as critical to their success.

“We actually have very complementary skill sets,” said Colin. “We often bounce ideas off each other and have become very good at slowing down before marching forward.”