The Technological Revolution and its place in teaching Geriatric Medicine

11 June 2013

Laura Daunt is an ST5 from the East Midlands North Deanery and is Education and Training representative on the BGS Trainees Council

Much is written about the time pressures on modern medical student curricula. Geriatric medicine, in particular, has the challenge of conveying the complex needs of our elderly patients and the necessity of a problem solving approach. This type of complex decision-making is perhaps best taught face-to-face with real multi-disciplinary teams and the patients they serve. However, there is also a great deal of material to get through if students are going to develop a proper theoretical underpinning to the skills they need to manage older patients.

One way to use face-to-face teaching time more constructively is to use computer aided learning (CAL) in addition to traditional teaching methods. This frees up face-to-face teaching time so that it can be used where it is most needed.  The approach is known as blended learning.The medical literature suggests that CAL is well received by students, but few studies have evaluated the impact on student learning within geriatric medicine. In an age of ever improving technology, it is important to evaluate these methods to ensure they are for students' benefit and not 'simply because they are there'.

At the Universities of Nottingham and Leicester, we developed and implemented CAL packages on falls and continence, and sought to review their effect on student learning. Packages were developed using the Xerte open access platform using objectives from the British Geriatric Society recommended undergraduate curriculum. The final product can be viewed here. The packages are deliberately open access and we would encourage colleagues to make use of them.

In a recent Age and Ageing article, we looked at two different ways of introducing CAL packages to medical students and evaluated the students' scores in a 'before and after' approach. We found that students performed better in the blended learning group compared to those taught by traditional teaching methods. This was largely by improving performance of the weaker students. The packages also received positive feedback. We were limited by analysing two separate Universities with different methods of assessment, but demonstrated real-world implementation and feasibility whilst still showing an improvement in exam scores.

We feel that blended learning is beneficial in the teaching of geriatric medicine. Computers can be used to deliver theory dense topics, whilst face-to-face teaching can then focus on topics that are most likely to benefit from interaction.  We can use this time, instead of talking about theory, to introduce students to our patients and the inspiration they offer. We have already begun to develop packages in other topics, including dementia and delirium and intend to use CAL to supplement teaching in these topics in the future.

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