Effectiveness of Test-Enhanced Learning in Continuing Health Sciences Education: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Background:

Increasing concerns over the effectiveness and quality of continuing medical education (CME) programs has encouraged educators to use theoretically driven empirical research to improve the educational value of these activities. Within cognitive psychology, theories of learning and knowledge acquisition, such as test-enhanced learning (TEL), may be used to enhance the effectiveness of CME protocols and delivery. The present study examined whether the pedagogical benefits of testing can be observed in practicing physicians.

Methods:

A total of 83 physicians were recruited following an education session on constipation management and were randomized to either (a) the test condition (n = 43), where learners wrote a short test consisting of 10 short-answer questions (SAQs), or (b) the study condition (n = 40), where learners studied the same information. Four weeks later, 56 (68%) physicians completed a final test with 10 new SAQs, with 27 being from the initial test condition and 29 belonging to the initial study condition.

Results:

Performance on the final SAQ test was equivalent for both test (42.5%) and study-only (41.2%) conditions (p = .71).

Discussion:

The null findings in the present study are inconsistent with previous research showing the pedagogical benefits of testing relative to studying. Given that most TEL research focuses on novice learners, who lack strong associative memory networks, it is possible that TEL is specific to novices and not generalizable to experts. Alternative explanations focus on the importance of repeated, distributed testing with feedback.

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