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How learning style affects evidence-based medicine: a survey study

Sandra E Zwolsman1*, Nynke van Dijk1, Anita AH Verhoeven2, Wouter de Ruijter3 and Margreet Wieringa-de Waard1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of General Practice/Family Medicine, Academic Medical Center-University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of General Practice/Family Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Hanzeplein 1, PO-Box 30.001, 9700 RB Groningen, the Netherlands

3 Department of General Practice/Family Medicine, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden University, Hippocratespad 21, 2333 ZD, Building 3, Leiden, the Netherlands

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:81  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-81

Published: 8 October 2011



Learning styles determine how people manage new information. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) involves the management of information in clinical practice. As a consequence, the way in which a person uses EBM can be related to his or her learning style. In order to tailor EBM education to the individual learner, this study aims to determine whether there is a relationship between an individual's learning style and EBM competence (knowledge/skills, attitude, behaviour).


In 2008, we conducted a survey among 140 novice GP trainees in order to assess their EBM competence and learning styles (Accommodator, Diverger, Assimilator, Converger, or mixed learning style).


The trainees' EBM knowledge/skills (scale 0-15; mean 6.8; 95%CI 6.4-7.2) were adequate and their attitudes towards EBM (scale 0-100; mean 63; 95%CI 61.3-64.3) were positive. We found no relationship between their knowledge/skills or attitudes and their learning styles (p = 0.21; p = 0.19). Of the trainees, 40% used guidelines to answer clinical questions and 55% agreed that the use of guidelines is the most appropriate way of applying EBM in general practice. Trainees preferred using evidence from summaries to using evidence from single studies. There were no differences in medical decision-making or in EBM use (p = 0.59) for the various learning styles. However, we did find a link between having an Accommodating or Converging learning style and making greater use of intuition. Moreover, trainees with different learning styles expressed different ideas about the optimal use of EBM in primary care.


We found that EBM knowledge/skills and EBM attitudes did not differ with respect to the learning styles of GP trainees. However, we did find differences relating to the use of intuition and the trainees' ideas regarding the use of evidence in decision-making.