Putting Learning Theory Into Practice

Metacognition in Medicine: Understanding How the Mind Works to Improve Teaching, Learning, and Patient Care (B13)

9:15-11:15 a.m.


Room 3 (Upper Level), San Diego Convention Center

Education is a key skill for every health care provider. Learning how the mind works and how learning happens can make all of us more effective teachers.

“A lot of us are involved in teaching medical students and residents, and we all teach patients,” says Garth Garrison, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Vermont Lamer College of Medicine. “But most providers are less involved at a higher level, where we are learning about how to more effectively deliver content.”

Dr. Garrison will co-chair the first ATS symposium on putting learning theory into practice to help learners learn more, learn faster, and learn more effectively. He will share the podium with Rosemary Adamson, MBBS, Department of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health System, and Jeremy B. Richards, MD, MA, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Garth Garrison, MD

Individual sessions at prior ATS conferences have addressed metacognition and learning theory, Dr. Garrison says, but this is the first symposium devoted entirely to exploring the latest developments in learning theory and putting them into practice.

The reality, he says, is that many providers still rely on traditional sage-on-the-stage teaching methods. That kind of didactic lecture may be a practical necessity in some settings, but passive learning, listening to the expert, is far less effective than active learning that deliberately engages learners.

One teaching style does not fit all situations or all learners, Dr. Garrison says. The key to more effective learning is to tailor the technique to the learner. Tailoring teaching begins with understanding the learner’s motivations, needs, and goals.

“This symposium is a one-stop shop to help attendees understand why things stick and why they don’t and how we can direct education toward specific populations. We have sessions on how doctors think, sessions on interprofessional education, and sessions on patient education,” he says.

“One of the issues with educating patients is bridging the divide,” Dr. Garrison adds. “How we communicate with each other versus how we communicate with patients can be very different.”

Vocabulary is one major difference in professional communication versus patient communication. Motivation is also different.

“Patients have very different motivations to learn than medical practitioners do,” Dr. Garrison says. “Patients are under very different stresses than providers, stresses that can get in the way of understanding and remembering content. There are very different strategies you can use when you are trying to educate residents or medical students as opposed to educating patients.”

There are differences in learning across generations, too. Younger learners are generally more resistant to didactic learning and more receptive to active participation. Younger learners also leverage technology in different ways than older learners. And not all learners have access to, or familiarity with, the latest technologies that can facilitate learning.

“Understanding those differences is crucial,” Dr. Garrison says. “You have to be sure that how you teach matches those generational, economic, and motivational needs. When you are teaching, the focus should not be on you, the educator. The focus is on the learners and what you can do to improve their learning.”