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Open Access Research article

Interactive seminars or small group tutorials in preclinical medical education: results of a randomized controlled trial

Zuzana de Jong1*, Jessica AB van Nies1, Sonja WM Peters1, Sylvia Vink2, Friedo W Dekker2 and Albert Scherpbier3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center, P.O. Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands

2 Center for Educational Expertise in Medicine, Leiden University Medical Center, P.O. Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands

3 Institute for Medical Education, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:79  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-79

Published: 13 November 2010

Abstract

Background

Learning in small group tutorials is appreciated by students and effective in the acquisition of clinical problem-solving skills but poses financial and resource challenges. Interactive seminars, which accommodate large groups, might be an alternative. This study examines the educational effectiveness of small group tutorials and interactive seminars and students' preferences for and satisfaction with these formats.

Methods

Students in year three of the Leiden undergraduate medical curriculum, who agreed to participate in a randomized controlled trial (RCT, n = 107), were randomly allocated to small group tutorials (n = 53) or interactive seminars (n = 54). Students who did not agree were free to choose either format (n = 105). Educational effectiveness was measured by comparing the participants' results on the end-of-block test. Data on students' reasons and satisfaction were collected by means of questionnaires. Data was analyzed using student unpaired t test or chi-square test where appropriate.

Results

There were no significant differences between the two educational formats in students' test grades. Retention of knowledge through active participation was the most frequently cited reason for preferring small group tutorials, while a dislike of compulsory course components was mentioned more frequently by students preferring interactive seminars. Small group tutorials led to greater satisfaction.

Conclusions

We found that small group tutorials leads to greater satisfaction but not to better learning results. Interactive learning in large groups might be might be an effective alternative to small group tutorials in some cases and be offered as an option.