How Dominant Learning Styles Hurt Physician Learners

doctor tablet brain

In my experience, people teaching physicians feel very strongly about learning styles – they either see them as really important or a bunch of nonsense. I believe the theory is actually well grounded – the problem is the application. For example, at my kids’ school, they have them take a learning assessment and then they tell the kids that, whatever their dominant style is, to try to learn solely that way. So, if they are an auditory learner, to record themselves reading something and then take a walk and listen to it. But that’s really not the point. The real benefit of determining your dominant style is to help you uncover your areas of weakness so you can strengthen them and become a whole-brain learner.

Becoming a whole-brain learner is critically important for doctors and other lifelong learners. The ways you learned in medical school are very different from the ways you learn in residency, and even more different from the ways you need learn once you are practicing. At this point in your career, a conversation with a colleague becomes just as important a learning moment as reading a journal article, so you need to be able to learn effectively in both settings.

I’ll give one more example. I worked with a doctor a few years back who had taken the cardiology boards twice and failed. She had done extremely well in medical school, but when she got to her fellowship she began to struggle. I had her take a learning styles assessment, and I discovered that she was an incredibly strong auditory learner–so much so that it was almost a learning disability. That explained why she had done so well when she could do work in group settings but had trouble when she got to her fellowship and group studying disappeared.

I gave her some techniques to help her improve her other learning styles while still maximizing the use of auditory learning for the most critical information. Had she not come to this realization, I think she may have been looking for another career. Instead, I’m happy to say that she passed on her third try, and is now a practicing cardiologist.

You can take the learning styles quiz I gave her here. It only takes a few minutes and will help you find your dominant style and the styles you need to strengthen. We also give you a few tips on how to improve retention from all learning sources. When you’re looking for CME opportunities, look for options that use multiple formats and techniques so you can take advantage of your dominant learning style while still reinforcing others.

 

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