Preparing medical students for future learning using basic science instruction

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES

The construct of ‘preparation for future learning’ (PFL) is understood as the ability to learn new information from available resources, relate new learning to past experiences and demonstrate innovation and flexibility in problem solving. Preparation for future learning has been proposed as a key competence of adaptive expertise. There is a need for educators to ensure that opportunities are provided for students to develop PFL ability and that assessments accurately measure the development of this form of competence. The objective of this research was to compare the relative impacts of basic science instruction and clinically focused instruction on performance on a PFL assessment (PFLA).

METHODS

This study employed a ‘double transfer’ design. Fifty-one pre-clerkship students were randomly assigned to either basic science instruction or clinically focused instruction to learn four categories of disease. After completing an initial assessment on the learned material, all participants received clinically focused instruction for four novel diseases and completed a PFLA. The data from the initial assessment and the PFLA were submitted to independent-sample t-tests.

RESULTS

Mean ± standard deviation [SD] scores on the diagnostic cases in the initial assessment were similar for participants in the basic science (0.65 ± 0.11) and clinical learning (0.62 ± 0.11) conditions. The difference was not significant (t[42] = 0.90, p = 0.37, d = 0.27). Analysis of the diagnostic cases on the PFLA revealed significantly higher mean ± SD scores for participants in the basic science learning condition (0.72 ± 0.14) compared with those in the clinical learning condition (0.63 ± 0.15) (t[42] = 2.02, p = 0.05, d = 0.62).

CONCLUSIONS

Our results show that the inclusion of basic science instruction enhanced the learning of novel related content. We discuss this finding within the broader context of research on basic science instruction, development of adaptive expertise and assessment in medical education.

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