Medical Students and Peer Learning – Some Thoughts

Medical Students and Peer Learning – Some Thoughts

As a child, in the 1960s, I had learnt the dance form Bharatanatyam for a few years. I used to go with some of my schoolmates for our evening classes. The dance master was a moody person – some days strict and almost angry; some days in a good mood. But one thing was sure – he was a great teacher. An interesting thing he did was – as new students joined the classes, he made the senior students (yours truly and some more) – teach them. Then he would make them perform and observe. Not only would he be actually teaching and correcting them, but he would also be preparing us to learn to teach better!

Now what does this have to do with medical students and learning? Fast forward from the 1960s to the present, I came across an article that just reminded me of my dance master’s methodology. The article:

Jawhari AA et al. Effect of Peer-Assisted Learning on Enhancing Clinical Research Skills Among Medical Students: Students’ and Tutors’ Perceptions. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2021. 22;12:685-696. doi: 10.2147/AMEP.S315041. PMID: 34188582; PMCID: PMC8235932.

The focus is on teaching Research Methodology Skills. The authors – from Saudi Arabia – share their observations – senior medical students who have had some training, research, and tutoring experience teach / share their skills and knowledge with younger medical students. And they find that the younger students actually love learning from their (slightly older) peers, rather than going through didactic learning. It was a four week study and the trainees got better post test scores compared to their pre test scores too

When I read the abstract, I was first a little skeptical, wondering if it were enough for students to learn from seniors alone and not have it checked out by experienced teachers. I actually then remembered my dance master who made it a point to check our teaching. But when I read the full article, I figured that sufficient care had been taken by the faculty too! The authors also pointed out another article where students were not satisfied with such a teaching, but there could be many factors for this.

Considering that I personally evolved to becoming a good teacher (in my area) and my good friend Ranjani who learned dance with me, not only became a great academician but also a full fledged dance teacher (in Boston), I am convinced that a lot more work should be done to make peer learning an integral part of learning!

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