Asynchronous Learning: How It Can Change the 4 Year Paradigm?

Image  Student Studying

As a medical student my classmates and I had the choice of either attending the class lectures or relying upon the class note pool, which was of uneven quality at times. This was unfortunate particularly because we didn’t know in advance who would slack off on their notes.

For the most part, we all attended lecture, as a result. Today, however, so much technology is available, and so much learning is done online that it seems a shame to spend hours a day learning didactic material that could be learned in advance of, for example, a more practical question and answer session.

Coursera and iTunes U have revolutionized learning. There are so many available sites where free courses from the best universities are available, and there are wonderful options for learning subjects as diverse as programming or playing the guitar. There is no reason for medical schools to waste scarce resources of time and faculty to repeat the same basic science†information year after year. I am speaking primarily of the pre-clinical years, of course, as advances in therapeutics and the critical experience of time spent with patients under the guidance of residents and faculty members makes it well worthwhile to put in hours at the hospital during the third and fourth year.

However, there are many possibilities for revamping the M1 and M2 paradigm. Students learn at different paces, typically, and the ability to utilize technology to learn at one’s own pace is the most efficient use of resources. Additionally, classroom time can then be spent addressing the inevitable questions that arise after didactic sessions. As it is currently, students sit in class, often for the entire day, and by the time pharmacology is over, they’ve forgotten the questions they had that morning on pathophysiology. An evening review of the material is less than optimal, and the whole process begins the next day.

Dr. Chris Nickson is in favor of what he calls “FOAM”: free, open-access meducation.

Memorization and rote learning can occur prior to classroom sessions, which can then consist of small group problem solving and achieving practical objectives in collaboration with fellow students and professors.

An interesting thought involves the standardization of quality through collaborative efforts among medical schools to provide the best of their courses online. In this way, each medical student would have access to the best lectures, and the uneven quality within and among medical schools could be better distributed. Medical schools could pass savings on to their students, which they might achieve by collaborating on lectures, rather than recreating the same courses year after year.

The ability to learn at one’s own pace would allow those students with the ability and drive to complete their pre-clinical coursework in a shorter timeframe. The USMLE will still be the tool of assessment of their mastery, but why shouldn’t those prepared to cover the requisite material more rapidly be able to move forward to their clinical rotations?

Some students may have well-defined interests, and, for example, the future radiologist may prefer a more in-depth study of anatomy than the future psychiatrist. Allowing some variation in the learning pathway may provide room for students to explore their initial interests as they enter the field.

The financial burden of a 4-year medical education is significant, and may discourage many bright students from pursuing a medical career. If med school can be completed in three years, there’s no reason that we should force all students to spend four years, while accumulating more debt. A three year track could potentially save some students $60,000 in additional debt.

Despite all of these potential advantages, systems as entrenched as the medical establishment are resistant to change. The thought of abandoning lecturing is foreign to even those professors who far prefer the research lab. But since that research advances medical science, and funds salaries and programs that benefit the communities served by teaching hospitals, perhaps we should recognize that there is a role for the professor who devotes much of his or her time to research and excels in research, although perhaps not in the lecture hall. It’s time to re imagine medical education with common sense placed ahead of tradition. We should conserve our resources through collaboration, utilization of technology, and realization that all students learn differently. The potential benefits of making a few changes in the current system of medical education could be far-reaching.

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Author Bio: Entrepreneur and enabler, Tuhin Ghosh has been pursuing his dream of enabling business and catalyzing growth mainly in the education industry. He is the Co -Founder of PrepGenie, a test prep provider that offers exam preparation courses for GAMSAT, PCAT, HPAT, LNAT, and UKCAT to aspiring medical students globally.


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