Imagine working with a partner who graduated from medical school without ever sitting through a lecture. It may seem sacrilegious—enduring lengthy sermons in anatomy, immunology, and cell biology has always been a rite of passage for med students. But, it turns out, being a passive recipient of information is not an optimal way to absorb or retain information.
Explore this issue:January 2018
“If information delivery is your goal, the lecture is a bad way to do it,” said William Jeffries, PhD, senior associate dean for medical education at University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine (UVM) in Burlington. “Attention span wanes within the first 15 minutes.”
Studies have consistently shown that active learning methods are the best way for students to understand, absorb, retain, and utilize information as they work their way through selecting key ideas, organizing how those ideas relate to each other, and integrating how the new ideas relate to other things they already know.
Medical schools are also trying to maximize a student’s attention using interactive activities alongside short videos or podcasts that are not easily interrupted by the vibration of an incoming text message in a lecture hall. “Texting while you’re driving is the same as being drunk and driving,” said Dr. Jeffries. “It’s the same in the classroom. Texting while learning is the same as being drunk while learning.”
Case Western Reserve University’s medical school in Cleveland, Ohio, has had a no-lecture curriculum since it opened in 2004. By the summer of 2019, UVM will have eliminated all of its lecture-style courses, moving to an entirely active learning environment in which students won’t be able to snooze or text their way through the parts of a lecture that don’t hold their attention.
“We’ve used the principles of neuroscience of learning to try to figure out how best to convey the information,” Dr. Jeffries said, “how to make it sticky and more meaningful to the practice of medicine. Students can then apply knowledge at a higher level and synthesize new information and paradigms to make higher-level connections when they encounter other clinical problems.
The way UVM achieves that goal is to put the information that would have been in a lecture into the cloud, assigning it as homework for students to read before class. Class time then is spent applying that information as students solve problems by going through a number of different types of exercises in group-based activities.