Changes in learning approaches in first year medical students



Publication Details

Wilson, I. G., Weaver, R. & Salamonson, Y. (2011). Changes in learning approaches in first year medical students. Focus on Health Professional Education, 13 (2), 65-72.


Learning approaches have a long history in medical education. Recent research suggests that learning approaches reflect the nature of the educational program. Problem-based learning has been said to promote deep learning; however, previous studies have questioned this assumption. This study explored whether there was a shift in learning approaches in an undergraduate medical course and whether students with employment outside of study or from a non-English-speaking background were more likely to demonstrate a reduction in deep learning across the first year of medicine.Methods: First-year medical students at a university in Australia were invited to complete a survey about their approaches to learning. Data collection occurred at the start and end of the year. The survey collected demographic and employment information from participants and included the Study Process Questionnaire to assess deep and surface approaches to learning. Results: Eighty-eight students completed the baseline survey, and 58 students completed the follow-up survey. There was a decrease in the mean score of deep learning approach across the year. In contrast, there was an increase in the mean score of surface learning approach. There were no statistical differences between learning approaches and student characteristics, including age, gender, language spoken and employment status. Conclusion: Three important issues that arise from this research. Firstly, learning approaches are not fixed; they vary as the context changes. Secondly, problem-based learning does not seem to promote or maintain deep learning approaches, and finally, medical students’ learning approaches are not affected by non-Englishspeaking background or employment.

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