Medical Students: Lectures or your phone, which work best?

Dr Kunal Patel 12 Feb 2019

Not too long ago, well, I’d like to think that it wasn’t too long ago, I was a medical student. As a student, while being distracted by nights out and socializing, I had to find the time to study but also work part-time. This was essential for raising funds for university but also pay the very high prices for the very heavy textbooks that were needed.

It is well established, that we still rely on physical media for learning and enjoyment, creating a physical bond and experience which helps with knowledge retainment. However, nowadays we are receiving information on our new synthetic organs, which happen to be attached to our hands, namely mobile phones. With these new battery operated body parts, are we changing the way we learn, in particular from a medical student perspective?

Dr Lucinda Wynter and colleagues at the University of Sydney decided to analyse how medical students were attaining information and via what resources. Even though they highlight that there is generally a low uptake of apps, partly because of the lack of diversity and quality in their development, students would still be using smartphones and e-learning. No surprise there. However, what is interesting is the breakdown of 350 students on how they use resources depending on revision or learning. Students use question banks and other online interactive materials significantly more frequently for the purpose of revision than they do when learning new material. When learning new material, written notes and reading textbooks were the most frequently utilized resources. Even attending lectures, which was always tough after a student party or two, was seen as a popular resource when learning something new.

Based on this and knowing that students have technology fully integrated into their learning lives, it is essential that we know how technology is currently being used and this study has revealed this. Revision or looking at reference material, especially when you are a qualified health worker is explored via mobile and e-learning. Yet, when one wants to learn something new, physical media and human interaction come out on top.

What is fantastic to see is that not all medical students, from an educational perspective, have become attached to their smartphones. However, from an educational design angle, it is clear that we must incorporate human interaction, physical media and lectures/tutorials in e-learning and instructional design.