Blog | Monday, August 3, 2015

Learning theory vs learning approach

I had the privilege of giving a grand rounds presentation recently on the topic of lifelong learning in health care. In the presentation, I discussed how adults learn within medicine, and reviewed literature on “adult learning theory.” Malcolm Knowles wrote extensively on the topic of Adult Learning, creating “principles of adult learning“ also coining the phrase “andragogy” (as opposed to “pedagogy”).

Others have questioned the concept of Adult Learning Theory, and have evidence to suggest that having 1 learning style is a misnomer. In fact, an article suggests that, at the undergraduate medical education level, we should consider a focus on learning approach rather than teaching to a specific learning style. Learners may not learn optimally with their self-proposed best learning style, and it is hard to say that a learner can learn with only one particular style. See here for a great review of this.

So what should educators do, given this dichotomy? Should we focus on the content and a delivery style that “meets the needs of today's learners”? Should it be about teaching the content to the learners, and nothing more?

In clinical medicine, where I spend most of my time, I do think it is critically important to focus on not just the content, but also the context in which that content is delivered. Learning environment, sometimes referred to as learning climate, is critical to making the learning process successful. It is the backbone upon which is built the process where ideal learning can take place. Given the IOM description of the Learning Healthcare System, this is essential. After all, where there is a healthy learning environment, there is an opportunity for all to learn with and from each other in order to provide the best care of the patients for whom we are privileged to care.

Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. This post originally appeared at Mired in MedEd, where he blogs about medical education.