How do you teach? Which learners can you teach best?

By: Damian Roland

Throughout July and August, many countries accept a new intake of doctors into their hospital departments or primary care settings. These doctors may be completely new to the practice of medicine, the environment of their practice or both. Because of  this, it is also a busy time of year for senior clinicians, regardless of their educational responsibilities, as they will have a larger duty to ensure patients are receiving timely care.

At this time of year, more so than others, it is important to be mindful of your teaching practice. I often struggle with starting from ‘scratch’ or the basics when encountering a new cohort of junior learners. I prefer teaching the intricacies and dilemmas of medicine, where evidence is lacking and where surprises in research can be found. Of course, other teachers really enjoy teaching fundamentals to novice learners. They enjoy the narrative required of conscious competency.

Regardless of your preference, whether you are teaching novices or experts, there are clearly many ways of approaching the same educational problem. While “learning styles”  have been challenged (See here), in my opinion, teaching styles are important to consider, especially in busy clinical environments, where teaching is often unplanned and unprepared.

I wonder how many CEs reflect on which type of learner they are best at teaching? Is it medical students: eager to learn with sometimes limited supporting knowledge?  Medical students can be challenging in their inquisitiveness.  Is it  senior residents / registrars in their final years of training: confident, up-to-date, but needing coaching in the tacit knowledge that informs  complex practice. Does it matter if the CE has a preference? While teaching styles have been described by Vaughn and Baker,  the more significant issue is whether a teaching style influences educational efficacy between a medical student or a senior resident / registrar.

Rob Rogers from iteachEM has previously brought together three great clinician educators to discuss Are you a good educator? The reverse corollary being “do you know when you are not?” Do you enjoy the start of the new academic year or dread it?  Do you dread or savour leading a continuing medical education session?

I don’t have answers, only questions. Does your teaching style influence who chooses to learn from you? This is more complex than junior learners avoiding eye-contact so they can talk with one of your colleagues. (Trainees often predict the answer that specific seniors will give and lean towards individuals who align with their preferences.) But beyond simple clinical questions or advice are you aware of who wants to learn from you? Do you have a tendency to drift towards learners you perceive as having most to gain from you? What does this mean?  Only questions.

 Image by Stuart Miles. via