Saying Goodbye to Lectures in Medical Schools

Saying Goodbye to Lectures in Medical School — Paradigm Shift or Passing Fad?

Richard M. Schwartzstein, M.D., and David H. Roberts, M.D.

“Become a doctor, no lectures required.” This headline about the University of Vermont’s proposed new approach to medical education generated considerable controversy. Although this proposed change is more drastic than the curriculum reform taking place at other medical schools, the movement away from traditional lecture-based courses has been under way in U.S. medical schools for more than three decades.

Questions remain, however, regarding how much content students must learn, whether that learning is best done in traditional classroom settings, and what else is required for medical trainees to become successful lifelong learners and adaptable practitioners.

This so-called flipped classroom approach is well suited to students who are members of the millennial generation.4 These young adults are digital natives — they have grown up with technology and are intimately familiar with it. Raised to be part of teams, they thrive in collaborative environments. They are accustomed to finding information online and learn best from visually appealing content that keeps them engaged and is presented in short segments (such as videos that are less than 10 minutes long). The traditional lecture will quickly lose the attention of many of these students, and an unengaged student is not learning.

We can often serve our students best by fusing elements of various methods, such as team-based or case-based learning and interactive large-group learning sessions, rather than feeling obliged to adhere to a particular format. But we must also use evidence-based approaches whenever possible and rigorously evaluate our innovations, acknowledging that important outcomes may include student engagement and problem-solving skills, team dynamics, and the learning environment as much as exam scores. In our daily lives as clinicians, we aim to create a culture of continuous quality improvement. We should strive to create the same culture in our educational lives.

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