Author: Damian Baalmann
The following post is a learner’s response to “@SirBill: the power of social media to transform medical education” and “Top 10 ways to reconcile social media and ‘traditional’ education in emergency care”
Social media use in medical education is an emerging field of scholarship in emergency medicine that has the potential to enhance patient care, medical knowledge, and practice based-improvement. Social media is the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. These interactions in the medical community and medical education have exploded over the past several years, particularly in emergency medicine. Several papers and blog posts including the two listed above describe the strengths and weaknesses of social media in education from a teacher’s perspective particularly with regard and reference to traditional medical education. Although all physicians are both learners and teachers at some level, this article will approach the topic from a learner’s perspective. In doing so, the strengths and weaknesses of social media in medical education will be examined in four different features of learning: the purpose of medical education, the appearance of successful learning, the appearance of the successful learner, and the structure of successful learning.
The Purpose of Medical Education
As medical professionals, we both learn because we must and because we are curious. We must learn to provide appropriate, up-to-date patient care by identifying and managing pathology utilizing safe, evidence-based methods. Furthermore, we learn because we are curious about new, innovative approaches, ideas, and advances in medicine. For both of these reasons, the purpose of medical education cannot be solely the transfer of information. The purpose of medical education is that the learner should know more than the teacher. This is achieved by not merely learning information, but learning how to acquire information and appraise it. From a learner’s perspective, it would seem that social media falls short in medical education in this regard. Certainly the opportunities to acquire information are present, but the methodology on how to acquire it and appraise it is not well demonstrated. Roland and Brazil point out that this is very similar to traditional medical eduction in which one would use a journal article to answer a clinical question and be faced with the same obstacles in knowing where to look for the information and how to appraise it. However, in many medical schools and residency and faculty journal clubs, the learner is taught and practiced in this regard to journals, but not so with social media. As Roland and Brazil state, ‘the principles are the same, but the tools are not’ and from a learner’s perspective there remains work/education to be done in how to acquire and appraise social media medical education.
The Appearance of Successful Learning
The appearance of successful learning is probably more of networking and mapping information than it is of building a pyramid of knowledge. In either model, context is everything. Successful learning acknowledges that learners come from different contexts, need different things and probably the best judge of context is the learner themselves. This is probably where social media has advantages over traditional medical eduction. I entered medical school with a strong biochemical background a virtually no background in anatomy and pathophysiology where as some of my classmates were well versed in anatomy but knew little about the Kreb’s cycle. Regardless, we sat through the same lectures and while I napped my way through biochemistry, I struggled with anatomy. In medical education, context is everything. Sherbino and Frank speak of this with relation to the flipped classroom approach (which is often paired in the social media medical education discussion): social media provides many different resources/mediums and contexts for different learners. From a learner’s perspective, social media medical education takes on the appearance of successful learning by providing a network that the learner can grow and map out information based on their own context and needs.
The Appearance of the Successful Learner
The appearance of the successful learner is not one who can just spew back information without understanding it and is not one who determines limits for other learners. The appearance of the successful learner is one who creates and gathers information for their own learning and does so seamlessly. Social media provides many avenues for this to occur. Rather than a governing body proposing limitations/clinical policies or a CME course providing a slew of facts, social media, through free open access medical education, allows for more innovation and freedom of thought by the learners. Unlike a traditional didactic series, the appearance of the learner is not one who is passive, but active and seeking out their learning material. Roland and Brazil acknowledge this by using the example of role modelling and personal reflections through social media and that the healthcare provider is more than a sum of their clinical knowledge and that social media provides the necessary feedback and comments that can facilitate this. Additionally, social media allows, from the learner’s perspective, the ability to made decisions for themselves. While in a traditional format, the learner may feel more pressure on what is taught as dogma, in social media, there exists more discussion of ideas without absolutes. The danger of this is when the learner does not take the time or is not experienced in making decisions and falls short and embraces or rejects something inappropriately.
The Structure of Successful Learning
If the appearance of successful learning is networks, the appearance of the structure of such a network would be a map demonstrating the collected pieces of information and how they relate. The learner is the cartographer, but how does one make sure the map is inclusive of the appropriate ideas? Despite the appearance of the successful learner being one who is more of innovation and freedom of thought, there is still a need for a curriculum. Despite the learner knowing his or her context, there is still a box of information that all providers must know. Traditionally, medical education curriculum has been manifested through the contents of a governing text book or a residency lecture syllabus or contested through board examinations. From a learner’s perspective, social media falls short here. Roland and Brazil speak of this specifically in their paper. They state, “Use social media as a medium, not a curriculum” and this is especially true for a learner. In my experience, there is a tendency for social media to rally around attractive topics in emergency medicine such as critical care and procedures and abstain from core topics that are less attractive like urinary tract infection microbial coverage. So, from a learner’s perspective, curricula should be held independent of social media education and possibly populated by social media education and completed with traditional sources. Finally, as a learner, one can see a lot of opportunity for improvement of the structure of social media medical education. As of now, so many varied sources and thoughts and ideas exist without connections, links or true networking. There certainly exist possibilities through Twitter and Reddit to engage and connect those ideas.
As an aspiring successful learner, there exists many opportunities to incorporate social media into my medical education. There is no place for replacement of traditional medical education but likely there can be coexistence and complementation. Social media medical education certainly has the capacity to meet the individual learner at their context and allows for more innovative and self-learning however may require some augmentation and further more work regards to methods on how to appraise it and how to successfully incorporate it into a learner’s curriculum.
Image from JD Hancock via flickr used under CC BY 2.0