Why one med school eliminated lectures

Walk onto any campus across the nation and you'll find a professor lecturing to students, who may or may not be paying attention.

The "sage on a stage" style of teaching has been a cornerstone of academia for centuries. But the tide is turning.

The University of Vermont's (UVM) medical school will phase out lectures from its curriculum and switch over to an active learning model by the summer of 2019. The Larner College of Medicine will be the first medical school in the nation to completely adopt an active learning model.

UVM's pivot falls in step with STEM's larger reform movement towards active learning. According to research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, students in traditional lecture courses are about 1.5 times more likely to fail an exam than their active learner counterparts.

In fact, students only retain about 10% of lecture material, says Charles G. Proper, senior associate dean at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The growing research against the traditional mode of higher ed teaching is pushing medical schools across the country to experiment with active learning.

Why don't more faculty members adopt learning innovations?

Under the Larner model, learning the material happens before students step foot in the classroom. Instead of lectures, class time is split into two parts. First, students take a low-stakes assessment to gauge their understanding of the material. Then students break out into small groups to discuss and solve problems, while the professor acts as facilitator and instructor, says William Jefferies, senior associate dean for medical education at UVM.

The model is designed to create a "stickier learning environment," notes Jefferies. While active learning helps students remember more of the content, students are also practicing collaboration and problem solving that closely mimics work in the real world, writes Lenny Bernstein for Washington Post.

Active learning holds promise, but when implementing a program, there may be some kinks to work out at first.

For example, instructors may need to pay more attention to keeping the class feeling calm, structured, and under control. But in this new model, student Collin York says he feels a stronger sense of responsibility to learn the material before class so he can offer thoughtful contributions when problem solving, writes Bernstein.

While Larner's decision to eliminate lectures will reverberate through the medical educator community, the pivot also offers three lessons to college educators as a whole, writes Joshua Kim for Inside Higher Ed.

Where to find your most innovative instructors

First, UVM's switch marks the growing influence of learning research on teaching practice, Kim writes.

Second, he notes that the adoption of active learning will be led by professional schools that have the advantage of "being smaller, more focused, and better integrated."

Finally, Kim hypothesizes that commitment to active learning will be a "cost-effective method to drive institutional success." To higher ed leadership, he recommends watching Larner closely to see how this shift impacts both its finances and reputation (Bernstein, Washington Post, 8/4; Kim, Inside Higher Ed, 8/4)

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