Photo Anne Gunderson for E-Learn Magazine photo by Tasos Katopodis

A Digital Learning Environment to Train Healthcare Professionals


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Oct 9, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version.

The largest healthcare provider in Maryland and the Washington, D.C. region, MedStar Health has one of the largest graduate medical education programs in the United States. With approximately 1,100 medical residents trained annually and a partnership with Georgetown University, MedStar opted to create a digital learning environment to allow learners to study anytime, anywhere.

MedStar Health is a not-for-profit regional healthcare system based in Columbia, Maryland. Guided by a patient-first philosophy, the system serves the local population with 10 hospitals, ambulatory care and urgent care centers, the MedStar Health Research Institute, and other programs and services regionally and nationally recognized for excellence in medical care.

Dedicated to caring for people, the system also works to advance the practice of medicine through education, innovation and research. Their medical education programs offer training in nearly 100 specialty and sub-specialty programs.

The system is also the medical education and clinical partner of Georgetown University, with approximately 25 percent of the Georgetown’s graduating class matched into MedStar residency and fellowships.1

Implementing a New Learning Experience

In April 2017, MedStar partnered with Blackboard to begin the implementation of Blackboard Learn as the digital learning environment for their online programs.

“We are already doing this valuable work in person, but with this platform we will be able to expand our reach and impact a larger audience,” says Dr. Anne J. Gunderson, assistant vice president of education, quality & safety at MedStar Health.

With an extensive experience in medical education, Gunderson joined MedStar Health with the mission to create educational opportunities.

“The first goal was to create an Executive masters in clinical, Quality, Safety, and Leadership, and a couple of certificates. Along with the major content, we created new programs for the faculty, teachers, and various learners. I was given a lot of opportunity, support and freedom to create new programs,” says Gunderson.

According to Gunderson, at first, the healthcare system was not planning to create an online education program. “But I have worked with Blackboard Learn for around 15 years, and I chose it for MedStar because I felt it would best meet our needs for adding to online education opportunities,” she explains.

The assistant vice president says she is a “staunch believer in online learning” since it allows learners to access the content they need, at the time they need it.

Challenges on the Way

Along with Blackboard Learn, MedStar has also implemented the Genius Student Information System, a software designed to manage online and virtual schools.

“I’m a believer in Blackboard solutions. I have used them for years and I didn’t hesitate to go back to Blackboard Learn when I decided to create a new platform for learning. I would say also that Genius is a strong reason why we chose it,” Gunderson explains.

According to her, one of the challenges during the process of implementing the digital learning environment was engaging content creators. “Most people don’t realize they are content experts and need encouragement or assistance to find the vision for their program,” she explains. Time can also be a critical factor when people are asked to create content outside of their current workload.

Another challenge was finding the proper marketing approach, as their digital learning environment does not target one specific audience, but all those affected by the continuum of healthcare delivery.

MedStar also had to deal with the current competition in the marketplace. According to Gunderson, since the U.S. Institute of Medicine published the report ‘To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,’ in 1999, quality and safety have grown in the medical sector and new opportunities for discussion and training were created.

“However, we offer a new perspective for all involved in healthcare education by including medical and nursing students, families, and patients, as well as offering continuing education credits for clinicians,” she observes.

An additional challenge was to deliver diverse courses, both in subject matter and in delivery method.

“By using Blackboard Learn we can have more local and international healthcare experts share their experiences and collaborate with others to create the safest possible care,” says Gunderson.

Future Expectations

For the next few years, Gunderson expects MedStar’s online learning program to grow swiftly. Their vision is to be a leader in the quality, patient safety, and leadership in the online education realm.

“Healthcare workers are very busy. We want to create an area to meet the needs of learners interested in growing their knowledge and expertise in safety, quality, research, and leadership,” Gunderson concludes.

Quick Facts – 20172

  • 176,561 inpatient admissions and observation stays.
  • Over 4 million outpatient visits.
  • Over US$ 5 billion spent caring for patients.
  • US$ 60 million invested in information technology.
  • Over 31,000 associates, residents and fellows.
  • 5,400 affiliated physicians.
  • One of the largest employers in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
  • Medical care provider for professional sports teams such as the Washington Capitals, the Washington Wizards, the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles.


1 MedStar Health. (n.d.). Medical Education. Retrieved August 6, 2018, from

2 MedStar Health. (n.d.). Facts and Figures. Retrieved August 6, 2018, from