Blog | Monday, September 24, 2012

Are medical educators teaching what we want doctors to learn?

We all know that:
--the amount of information is increasing rapidly, and
--the half-life of knowledge is shrinking; what we knew few years back does not hold true anymore.
As Alvin Toffler said, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

Once our students leave the formal education settings of medical school, they will have to learn how to keep up with literature and new advances on their own. Thus medical educators want to teach students how to become self-motivated self-directed, lifelong learners.

The hidden curriculum is the unintended lesson/s, usually about norms, values, beliefs or behaviors, learned during a learning experience. Thus in medical schools students are taught a particular way to communicate with patients. When students see health care practitioners interact with their patients differently, they get a different message.

One of the biggest hidden curricula is the way students are expected to learn in medical schools. Traditionally, they are expected to attend lectures and seminar, show up in clinical rotations and have information delivered to them, drilled into their heads. [A number of medical schools are trying to break out of this mold]. These students get the unintended message that someone else is taking the responsibility for their learning. This hidden message is more powerful than the intended message for their need to be self-directed learners.

To truly help students become the independent, self-directed learners we want them to be, schools need to reform the way they educate. Instead of large lecture halls, early in the training the students need to learn how to look up and find information to solve problems. Students can learn individually or in small groups (e.g. problem-based learning and team-based learning).Passive learning should be avoided. This will create a hidden curriculum that will help our students learn the only useful lesson we can teach!

Neil Mehta MBBS, MS, FACP, practices internal medicine at a large tertiary care hospital in Ohio. He is also the Director of Education Technology (Academic Computing) for his medical school and in charge of his hospital system's home grown Learning and Content Management System. He is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management. This post originally appeared at Technology in (Medical) Education.