Continuing education programmes have an important role in staff development [1, 2]. In the nursing profession the most common aims of these programmes are to enable nurses to continue their professional growth, deliver safe and efficient care, appraise clinical practice in an innovative way and identify their own educational needs . Research shows that continuing education leads to increased productivity, fewer occupational accidents, an improved organizational atmosphere and enhanced quality care . Descriptive studies have also emphasized the importance of access to continuing education as an effective factor in reducing professional isolation, increasing the willingness to work in remote locations and improving staff performance in these areas .
Studies show that nurses strongly desire to participate in continuing education programs and the number of requests for participation is increasing [2, 5]. Currently the most frequently used continuing education method in Iran is the face-to-face method. However, studies show that this method has several limitations; it does not recognize personal differences and learners' needs, and in some cases disregards problem-solving, creative thinking and other high-level cognitive skills. On the other hand, Fordis (2005) criticized continuing education for being episodic and producing a "one-size-fits-all" format. He believed that improving the effectiveness of current continuing education delivering methods is crucial . Many scholars have also emphasized the necessity of changing or complementing face-to-face methods for continuing education . New advances in information technology provide improved opportunities for continuing education for nurses particularly via the web . Teaching through the web can overcome some of the limitations of face-to-face teaching methods and provides easy and adaptable access to learning . A web-based method can be used as an alternate mode of teaching and learning and as a substantial supplement to traditional teaching methods .
By using the web, different learning styles can be taken into consideration, distance learning becomes possible, more time is saved, and information and skills can be shared [6, 7]. Studies of nurses' experiences of web-based learning have shown increased learner satisfaction, activeness in learning, ease of access, as well as a desire to use technology for learning [9–11].
Academic curriculum planners in Iran have paid attention to the issue of information technology and its application in different aspects of education in recent years. One example is the establishment of an electronic education center in Tehran University of Medical Sciences in 2002 to develop and evaluate electronic courses in order to improve education quality, promote the application of new educational technologies, offer tele-education courses and conduct research regarding e-learning .
Although many web-based programs have been developed in recent years for academic education in Iran (e.g. Distance Learning Network in Tehran University of Medical Sciences [DLN-TUMS] and Continuing Medical Education in Tehran University of Medical Sciences [CME-TUMS]), their quality and effectiveness have not been thoroughly and extensively evaluated [13, 14]. Thus, little knowledge exists concerning web-based continuing education outcomes in Iran, and more research is clearly necessary. The aim of this study was to compare the effectiveness of web-based and face-to-face methods in continuing education about AIDS for nurses. Information about web-based education outcomes in comparison with face-to-face format can help researchers and tutors prepare and deliver future web-based or face-to-face courses more efficiently.