Summary: Measuring learning rather than time. Description: Learning Impact, a conference organised by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, has as its theme Competency-Based Education described as the concept of measuring learning rather than time. Outcome or competency-based education has been described as one of the most important developments of medical education in the past decade.  On April 10, 2013, Jason Frank gave an outstanding webinar on the topic, An Introduction to Competency-Based Outcomes Education, as part of the MedEdWorld webinar series. Both the presentation and content were excellent. He started by asking participants the difference between an astronaut, a Judo enthusiast, and a doctor. The answer is that the training of the first two, unlike that of the doctor, is focused on their achievement of a set of competencies rather than time. The webinar will be archived and if you were not able to take part live, it will be worth looking at. You can do so while logged in at MedEdWorld by visiting the webinar archive area.

The use of the situational judgment test to assess new graduates in the UK prior to their entry to the matching scheme for Foundation Year posts is causing some controversy. There will be a number of papers on the situation judgment test at AMEE 2013 in Prague and I look forward to hearing the discussion.

I write this blog just prior to my departure for a short visit to Saudi Arabia. The last week has been a busy one in Dundee working on the 2,420 submitted abstracts along with their reviews for AMEE 2013 in Prague. I find doing this provides me with an overview of the current issues in medical education that are attracting attention. Professionalism as in the last few years features high on the list. There are a significant number of papers this year on empathy. I was interested to see scheduled in Dundee this week a talk by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen on the subject. He asks whether our behaviour and our position on the empathy spectrum can be affected by our genes and environment… an interesting question.  Unfortunately, I will be in Saudi Arabia and not able to attend his presentation. Other topics that appear to be hot this year include selection with new approaches such as the multiple-mini interview and the situational judgment test; integration of the basics with clinical science; community-oriented medical education; and training for surgery. One topic that features the ASPIRE initiative is student engagement in the curriculum. There are probably fewer papers this year, but significant ones on the topic of PBL. One advantage of the number of papers received is that it is possible to put together interesting themed sessions on topics such as curriculum mapping, social accountability, and humanities in medical education.

I have referred a number of times recently to how Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are featuring in news items. The realities of MOOCs is a news feature in the March 19, 2013, issue of ASTD Learning Technologies Blog. Ben Betts, the author, highlights the two types of MOOCs: cMOOCs and xMOOCs. cMOOCs gather a wide-range of people together to discuss and discover a subject that interests them and enables them to learn in any way they see fit. xMOOCs stick closer to well-known methods of online learning, such as video tutorials and quizzes and provide a common platform. If anyone is interested, the website by Stephen Downes is a source of information.

It has become fashionable to dismiss the role of learning styles in the learning process. Jay Cross, described as the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning, re-published in his recent blog (April 12, 2013) his post from 2005 in which he reviewed a report on learning styles and pedagogy where the importance of learning styles was dismissed and research work undertaken in the area criticised. The sheer number of the dichotomies relating to learning styles in the literature was said to be an indication of the conceptual confusion. These included convergers versus divergers; verbalisers versus imagers; holists versus serialists; deep versus surface learning; and another 29 dichotomies. Despite the criticisms of learning styles, from my own experience as a teacher and from the experimental literature, I still believe that there is something to the basic idea that students learn in different ways and that we should harness this. As we reported in an article in Medical Teacher (Integration of e-learning resources into a medical school curriculum, (Khogali et al. 2011 33(4), 311-318), we found that students working on a computer-based programme on the cardiovascular system chose to tackle the subject and to use the resources in different ways. In his blog of April 13, 2013, Stephen Downes, senior researcher for Canada’s National Research Council and a leading proponent of the use of online media and services in education, shares my concern with regard to the role of learning styles. He argues that the fact that researchers do not fully understand the domain does not mean that there is no understanding to be had. He suggests that there may yet be research that validates the intuitive understanding that the way people learn may have an impact on how well they learn.

The suggestion in an editorial (J R Soc Med 2013: 106: 115) that “The next great transformation is likely to be journals that dispense with pre-publication peer review” has much to commend it. To allow all engaged in health professions education to quickly publish and share their work, MedEdPublish has been launched. Readers are invited to rate the value to them of each paper after it is published and to comment on it. MedEdPublish is not seen as an alternative to the more traditional peer review process in established medical education journals such as Medical Teacher, but as a way of providing authors a choice when publishing their work. How the process operates in practice is being kept under review. I described the rationale in an article that appears in Medical Teacher (“A fresh approach to publishing and reviewing papers in health professions education”. Medical Teacher 2013;35:1-3).

I commented in previous blogs on open access to journals. The issue is one that continues to attract attention from an academic and financing and business perspective. Open access is not equivalent to “paid access” as there are many open access journals that do not charge for publication. Where an institution or society is providing the services relating to publication free then contributors may not be asked for a fee to publish. For other open access journals, the cost, which can be several thousand pounds per article, falls upon the author. If you haven’t looked at the following interesting video on YouTube on the case for open access and what it implies you might like to.