Similar to its predecessor, the iPhone, the iPad is a prime example of how a disruptive technology can transform users’ behavior. Yet the tablet is just one of several innovations that have upended our old ways of teaching.
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Explore This IssueSeptember 2013
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Perhaps one of the most intriguing developments has been the creation of massive, open online courses, better known by the acronym, MOOCs. These courses offer a wide array of topics ranging from behavioral economics to systems biology. To date, they have attracted more than 5 million students worldwide due to the MOOCs’ distinguished faculty, high-quality video format, low cost (often free), and ability to set one’s own viewing and studying schedule. What distinguishes this form of teaching from previous online efforts is its integration of social networks that serve as conduits for peer-to-peer learning. For example, there are discussion forums for each course where students can chat with and assist each other, and collaboration via Facebook, Google+, and Twitter is strongly encouraged.
Though MOOCs are better suited to undergraduate-level teaching, there is a growing interest in using this format for medical school teaching as well. Catherine R. Lucey, MD, vice-dean for education at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, predicted that, “online content delivery will be commonplace within about five years in medical school.”3 Dr. Lucey recently led a very popular MOOC on clinical problem solving that has so far attracted an enrollment of over 28,000 students.4
MOOCs serve as a better way to prepare undergraduates for medical school. Currently, most premed courses are fairly didactic and dense with information that needs to be acquired based on the fixed timetable of the particular course. In contrast, with MOOCs, the learning time crunch is eliminated since students can replay any lecture as often as necessary. Keep repeating until it sticks.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing developments has been the creation of massive, open online courses … To date, they have attracted more than 5 million students worldwide.
The Sticky Classroom
If MOOCs gain widespread acceptance in medical education, won’t students be missing out on useful face-to-face interactions with their professors? Is there a way for medical educators to incorporate hands-on clinical teaching into this new realm? This is where the concept of the “flipped classroom” can help out. Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean for medical education, and Chip Heath, PhD, professor of organizational behavior, both at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., suggest that medical education can be improved by making lessons more comprehensible and memorable—that is, “stickier.”5 They argue that teaching points or messages are stickier when they are unanticipated and thus tend to capture our curiosity. Messages also become stickier when they come in the form of a story that elicits emotion in readers or listeners. Isn’t this why we use clinical cases as tools to instruct our fellows, residents, and students about the finer points of rheumatology?