Innovative Learning


Medical education (and health-related professions such as nursing, dentistry, pharmacy) represents a major category of adult training. Because of the high costs and consequences of poor performance, a great deal of attention has been devoted to medical education (e.g., McGuire et al. 1983; Tosteson, 1979).

One of the characteristics of medical knowledge is that it is immense and constantly changing. Health professionals must acquire and remember a tremendous number of details, making memory processes critical. Theories of learning that focus on memory (e.g., ACT, dual coding, levels of processing) are therefore especially relevant. Cognitive flexibility theory which emphasizes a case study approach involving context-dependent and realistic situations applies directly to medical education. In addition, the use of learning strategies to maximize study behavior is also very important.

Certain cognitive processes and skills are critical in medical practice, e.g., decision-making, reasoning, and problem-solving. Problem-solving, in particular, has been the basic pedagogy for many medical curricula (e.g., Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980; Elstein., Shukman & Sprafka,1978; Norman & Schmidt, 1992). The medical environment is very stressful, making anxiety and arousal important issues. Many aspects of medicine (e.g., surgery, radiology, dentistry) require high levels of sensory-motor ability. Health care workers are frequently required to make important value judgements, so research on attitudes is also relevant.

Medical education extends over the lifetime of the individual. Health professionals must be self-directed in their learning activities and be able to relate new information to their own needs and experiences. For this reason, theories of adult learning (such as Cross, Knowles, Rogers) that emphasize self-directed and experiential learning are highly pertinent. Furthermore, theories of instruction that are based upon self-study or use of media (e.g., Mager, Salomon) are also significant to medical education.


American Medical Informatics Assoc.
Barrows, H.S. & Tamblyn, R.M. (1980). Problem-Based Learning: An Approach to Medical Learning. NY: Springer.
Elstein, A., Shukman, L. & Sprafka, S. (1978). Medical Problem Solving. Cambridge , MA: Harvard University < Press.
McGuire, C.H., et al. (1983). Handbook of Health Professions Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Nursing Internet Resources (Slack Inc.)
Norman, G.R. & Schmidt, N. (1992). The psychological basis of problem-based learning. A review of the evidence. Academic Medicine, 67, 557-565.
Teaching and Learning in Medicine
Tosteson , D.C. < (1979). Learning in medicine. New England< Journal of Medicine, 301(13), 690-694.
Journal of Academic Medicine

Examples of online curricula:

Problem-based learning at Southern Illinois Medical School
BioStats and Medical Informatics (Univ Wisconsin)


Thanks to Ken Williamson ( and Kathleen Hunter ( for help with this page.