Summary: In his latest blog Professor Harden addresses questions such as Individualising learning, is it feasible?, Face-to-face or virtual conferences? and more Description:
Individualising learning, is it feasible?
In the ESME Course module that looks at the FAIR principles of making learning effective (Feedback, Activity, Individualisation, Relevance) there is always discussion as to the feasibility of individualising learning where there is a class of 100 or more students. I was challenged by the course participants in a recent course discussion session to give examples of how tailoring learning to the needs of each student can be made to work in practice. From experience in Dundee I gave some examples:

  1. Students can proceed through a series of course modules at their own rate, asking to be assessed when they completed a course module. If they demonstrated mastery of the subject they could immediately move on to the next module.
  2. Students could choose how they learned – by attending face-to-face lectures or listening to recorded lectures, by working on their own, in pairs, or in small groups
  3. In face-to-face lectures students could assess their own understanding of the topic using an audience-response system. Learning resources were provided with built in self-assessment and feedback that allowed the learner to proceed at their own pace.
  4. As part of the education programme optional activities were provided one afternoon per week, relating to the students’ career preferences. For example, during the endocrine course they might choose to work with a thyroid surgeon, in a laboratory with a pathologist, or with a general practitioner in a community diabetic clinic.
  5. In the required student-selected component in the curriculum, students could select from a range of options one that best met their needs.
  6. Students developed their own portfolio which provided evidence that they had achieved the twelve learning outcome domains as specified in the Dundee three-circle model.
Following this introduction, participants came up with their own ideas as to how they might in their own context tailor the learning to the individual needs of their students.

Face-to-face or virtual conferences?
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to reduce the carbon footprint there has been a move to virtual conferences with participants meeting online. Writing in the BMJ (13th Nov 2021) Richard Smith argued that now is the time to move away from international in-person conferences. Viknesh Sounderajah and Ara Darzi, however, argued the value of in-person conferences which provide a better opportunity to network, exchange ideas, make career-defining decisions, and cultivate international collaborations. We have found in relation to the AMEE Annual Conference that more than half of the preconference workshops submitted each year are from authors who had first established contact at a previous AMEE Conference.

Virtual conferences have been positioned as the environmentally friendly alternative. However, as noted by S and D the environmental footprint of conferences may conceivably exceed that of the average in-person conference.

Smith, R., Sounderajah, V., Darzi, A. 2021. Have international in-person medical meetings had their day? BMJ. 375, n2345.

Thoughts on research in medical education
Each month when I receive my copy of Educational Researcher, the official journal of the American Education Research Association, I look through the articles with only a passing interest as they may not appear relevant on first reading to my own interests. However, two articles in the August-September 2021 issue did attract my attention and challenged me to think further about aspects of research in medical education which I had not considered before.

The article How should educational effects be communicated to teachers by Lortie-Forgues et al, which challenged me to consider whether we are communicating in published articles as effectively as we could the results of the research in medical education. Given the move to evidence-informed teaching (See this is important. The authors found that teachers have preferences as to how the results of studies should be communicated in terms of informativeness, understandability, and helpfulness of metrics used. Different metrics (such as test scores, the proportion of students passing a test, the percentage of students scoring above the mean of a control group, a percentile gain, or the months of progress) induced different perceptions of an intervention’s effectiveness.

The relevance of education research was the theme of an article by Akkerman et al – Relevance of education research: An ontological conceptualisation. The relevance of education research has been attacked with regard to usefulness, applicability, generalisability, and replicability. Akkerman et al suggest that we need to move from an emphasis on the impact of outcomes to what they call “ontological synchronisation” – continuous attunement to what is happening and matters at hand and what future is being generated.

Lortie-Forgues, H., Sio, U.N., Inglis, M. 2021. How Should Educational Effects Be Communicated to Teachers? Educ Researcher. 50(6), 345-354.

Akkerman, S.F., Bakker, A., Penuel, W.R. 2021. Relevance of Educational Research: An Ontological Conceptualization. Educ Researcher. 50(6), 416-424.

The need to value peer reviewers
The increased number of publications in medical education (each week in Medical Teacher we receive more than 40 manuscripts for consideration) has resulted in an increased need for peer reviewers. Lindebaum and Jordan highlight the problem in Times Higher Education (11th Nov 2021). University policies, they argue, are often geared towards the outputs (publications) that enable them to do well in rankings but neglect inputs such as peer review needed to make publications possible in the first place. The results may be a limiting of the willingness of individuals to engage in the peer review process. They report, for example, that up to 12 invitations from a journal may be necessary to sign up to reviewers.

Lindebaum and Jordan have reservations about introducing payments to reviewers. They have three proposals. A journal’s system should offer incentives, for example, with “best reviewer” awards. Secondly, good role models are needed to encourage junior colleagues to engage with the review process. Third, they suggest we need to ensure that peer review is part of a university’s quality conversations, and go on to suggest that hiring processes could explicitly compare the frequencies with which candidates publish and review papers; a big preponderance of publications over reviews would count as a negative.

An issue for Medical Teacher is whether we should consider for publication papers whose authors have not been willing to review other papers for the journal.

The AMEE 2022 is planned as a hybrid conference with face-to-face elements in Lyon and online elements for those unable to be with us in Lyon.