Lectures in medical education: Is there a future?

While most of my blog focuses on the benefits of simulation within medical education, I’m always keen to read about the opinions of others. In a concise and well written article in the Atlantic by Dr. Richard Gunderman. While he acknowledges the pitfalls of lectures, he raises some excellent points regarding their value. Just like most things, absolutist statements (like all lectures are bad and provide no learning) are likely wrong. He argues that

The great lecture opens learners’ eyes to new questions, connections, and perspectives that they have not considered before, illuminating new possibilities for how to work and live.

I still recall some of my favorite learning moments in medical school and many occurred during lectures. Some of my most memorable professors were memorable because they lectured in a way that was captivating and inspiring. While I do strongly advocate against lectures (in general) because I believe we have superior methods for education, they should not be eliminated. We need to harness the skills of those lecturers to whom we could listen all day and impress that upon learners. Learners can then be encouraged to become great lecturers or they will become so inspired by a topic that they wish to become an expert that leads to great change. I’ll end with this quote from the article. It highlights the value of lectures often beyond our typical perceptions.

The real purpose of a lecture is to show the mind and heart of the lecturer at work, and to engage the minds and hearts of learners



2 thoughts on “Lectures in medical education: Is there a future?

  1. Hi Andrew – After reading Gundersman’s Article in the Atlantic, I rediscovered you fantastic blog! Everyone at every med school shopuld look at it. I too am interersted in thid topic, having lctured and taught samll groups in cell biology at a small priovate med school in New Haven. I also direct the MD-PhD program there so am involve heavikly with critical thinking learning and you points about students being eposed ot inspriational folk of whom we have plenty here hits the mark soliday. If some how we could get the truly inspired physician-scientists to lecture and inspire our students followed by break-out sessions with the leaders in science and medicine, it would be a win-win situation. In fact a colleague of mine here, Fred Gorelick and I have run just such a series of sessions throurought the school year and find about 3/4 of all the med students, not just the mufuds participate and really learn what science means in medicine from the horse’s mouths! We, like most other med schools are streamlining the curriculum, in order to get docs out in practice more quickly (driven by the LCME accreditation mainly) by instituting podcast lectures, Kaplan style courses designed for the Boards and a demephasis on science. The rationale is that with Google and Wiki anyone can learn the facts!! I think this is an intellectual cop out in med schools where one learns to think from inspirational role model and like you, learn from listening to patients and actually thinking of their Dx!!

    But then I’m told I’m too old fashioned and have to get an iPad!
    Thanks for listening and for your great Blog
    jim jamieson, MD-PhD, Dir. MSTP, YMS

    • Hi Jim, first of all thanks for reading the blog! It’s always great to hear from an established educator like yourself. The argument to move away from lectures and towards small group learning is interesting. There are definite pros to such an approach but only to a certain extent. I think medical edcuators can do better than exclusively lecturing in a large group setting as an entire curriculum like that would be tedious. A balanced approach would be best. And I believe that simply deciding on one type of teaching removes the creativity that educators must utilize as they continuously look to encourage and inspire learners. Thanks again Jim for your post. And good luck finding that balance!

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