Medical education increasingly involves online learning experiences to facilitate the standardization of curriculum across time and space. In class, delivering material by lecture is less effective at promoting student learning than engaging students in active learning experience and it is unclear whether this difference also exists online. We sought to evaluate medical student preferences for online lecture or online active learning formats and the impact of format on short- and long-term learning gains. Students participated online in either lecture or constructivist learning activities in a first year neurologic sciences course at a US medical school. In 2012, students selected which format to complete and in 2013, students were randomly assigned in a crossover fashion to the modules. In the first iteration, students strongly preferred the lecture modules and valued being told “what they need to know” rather than figuring it out independently. In the crossover iteration, learning gains and knowledge retention were found to be equivalent regardless of format, and students uniformly demonstrated a strong preference for the lecture format, which also on average took less time to complete. When given a choice for online modules, students prefer passive lecture rather than completing constructivist activities, and in the time-limited environment of medical school, this choice results in similar performance on multiple-choice examinations with less time invested. Instructors need to look more carefully at whether assessments and learning strategies are helping students to obtain self-directed learning skills and to consider strategies to help students learn to value active learning in an online environment.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The University Of Minnesota Office Of Informational Technology Fellowship provided financial support for the project. Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Award Number UL1TR000114.
- Active learning
- Medical education