What is normal?

By Jonathan Sherbino (@sherbino)

As CEs it is essential that we understand and acknowledge the tacit theories that inform our practice.  As an education consultant, we provide concrete solutions to real-world challenges.  Our opinions are sought because we can translate education theories and principles to the classroom or bedside.  However, are we conscious of the theories that influence us?  

In our clinical (i.e. health professional) world biomedical theories abound.  Certainly at my hospital, the infection control officers regularly quote the germ theory of disease.  As clinicians, I suspect we are more comfortable with these positivist (i.e. objective, verifiable, absolutist) theories.  However, as CEs we must also acknowledge the social theories that inform and influence our education practice.

Constructivism is an epistemology (e.g. the framework for understanding the scope and
nature of “what is true”) “that asserts that the reality we perceive is constructed by our social, historical, and individuals contexts, and so there can be no absolute shared truth.”  When we consider social constructivism (e.g. the construction of knowledge / “truth” among a group with shared interests), we must acknowledge the impact of a community (at a particular time and within a particular context) on the organization of our perception of reality.

So… what does this mean for a CE?  (And thank you for wading through to this point…) The CE community implicitly defines “normal” (e.g. sets standards, establishes boundaries, legitimizes approaches, etc.).  While we may feel (at times) like outsiders within academic healthcare, we should be cautious of the solutions we provide via our  education consultations.  Our understanding of “normal” is a social construction.

Image courtesy of dan-dare.org