Medical school first-year students know it can be a hard and unforgiving start of the semester, with a lot of time being spent in a lecture hall. With hundreds of terms to master, notes to gather and organize and concepts to understand. However, the new classes for medical students at the Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine aren’t coming in a traditional format with a professor. Beginning this year, the school is starting to throw away lectures in favor of what’s known as “active learning”.
The plan is to completely shift towards the new regime by 2019 and be done with the lecture format altogether by that time. The person at the forefront of this learning revolution, ironically enough, loves lectures. His name is William Jeffries, and he’s a dean at the school who wrote the chapter on lectures in two popular textbooks on medical education. Now, though, he’s not convinced about lecture efficiency anymore and has a better way of transferring knowledge in mind.
When asked about why lectures are bad after all, he said that it’s not about that and that lectures aren’t bad, per se. “The issue is that there is a lot of evidence that lectures are not the best way to accumulate the skills needed to become a scientist or a physician.” Basically, he explains it with a plethora of accumulated evidence showing that other methods such as “active learning” significantly outperform the lecture format. The students in certain fields should get as much hands-on experience as they can, and be engaged in the learning process.
“We’re finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information, but then also organize it and make sense of it and create an internal story that makes the knowledge make sense.”
Basically, it’s not enough to tell something to someone and expect them to “learn” or even memorize it. Repetition is required, but also transferring the same information in several different ways so it sets into your mind more firmly. That’s the reason behind the efficiency of hearing, writing, underlining and speaking the stuff you want to learn. The more ways you put it through your head, the better you will memorize it.
The chances of the student remembering lecture information diminishes over time, but if you are required to use that information, chances are you’ll remember it much better.
For example, pharmacokinetics — the science of drug delivery, is simply mathematical equations. In an active learning setting, you’d expect the students to learn about the equations before they get to the classroom. “The students work in groups solving pharmacokinetic problems. Cases are presented where the patient gets a drug in a certain dose at a certain time, and you’re looking at the action of that over time and the concentration of the drug in the blood,” Jeffries says.
He also said that they have received some resistance from some of the faculty members, but most tend to be open to testing when they hear the overwhelming evidence and logic behind the concept. It’s worth pointing out that University of Vermont is not the only medical school that’s recognized the value of active learning methods. Other faculties around the world have recognized the need to move away towards more efficient learning.