Don’t confuse delivery with consumption

“Oh, piffle,” I thought.

Over the weekend, I had responded to a question about lecture capture with some data showing that students use the lecture capture system at my institution. It evoked responses about the demise of lectures and encouraging bad behavior of contemporary students.

Oh, piffle.

In the highly sophisticated, elite, and insular environment in which I work, we pride ourselves as the pinnacle of educators and education. Medical education is one of the most expensive enterprises both for the institution and the learner. Hence, we better be the best.

So, the raging controversy isn’t that students use lecture capture; they use it and use it extensively.

The controversy is that the student is not there live to enjoy my performance as a lecturer and the time I devoted to making special features (videos? audience response system questions? in-class activities? discussion questions? pearls of wisdom?) which make my lecture especially worthwhile. It doesn’t matter that the student views my lectures after the fact. It doesn’t matter that at some institutions, students can view my lectures ahead of the fact. And it doesn’t even matter that the students perform just as well on my exams or their licensing exams. The issue is that they were not there when I lectured, or when my special guest lectured, or …

While I will focus on other facets of the issues in future posts, here, I make one assertion. Lectures are a method of content delivery to which we want our learners to be exposed. Other methods of content delivery include reading materials (assigned or optional), class notes, prerecorded learning objects (including Khan Academy-like videos), recordings, other types of videos, web modules, or whatever.

Delivery of content in medical education does not equate to the consumption of that content.

How a learner wants to consume the content should be up to them. If they want to view the lecture at 3x speed, why not? It they think they benefit as much by reading a textbook, why not? If they think they learn best by watching a video from another institution, why not? It seems to me that my role as a faculty member is to guide the learners (sometimes more vigorously than others) to the appropriate resources and then allow them – as adults – to choose the most appropriate way of consuming that content.

What we should concern ourselves about are the following:

Do learners learn what we want them to learn? What objective outcomes measures can we use to determine that the learner has achieved what we want?

Here, we must declare the intent of our curriculum – hidden or otherwise – in order to look critically at the outcomes. If the intent of the curriculum is to focus on content, then fine, tell the learners that and guide them on how to consume the content. Then assess whether they have acquired the requisite content.

If the intent of the curriculum is to focus on social interactions, team building, and team activities, then fine, tell the learners that and show them how the in-class activity meets those objectives. And if it is important enough, require the learners to show up. And then, assess how those skills are exhibited and/or enhanced by the activity.

So, piffle. Let us control that which we can and trust our learners to do that which we cannot.

Note: The views in this commentary are my own and not necessarily those of my institution, employer, or colleagues.

(Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on December 16, 2014 at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dont-confuse-delivery-terence-ma)

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