Context dependent memory in two learning environments: the tutorial room and the operating theatre
Department of Academic Surgery, Cork University Hospital, Cork, Ireland
BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:118 doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-118Published: 1 September 2013
Psychologists have previously demonstrated that information recall is context dependent. However, how this influences the way we deliver medical education is unclear. This study aimed to determine if changing the recall context from the learning context affects the ability of medical students to recall information.
Using a free recall experimental model, fourteen medical student participants were administered audio lists of 30 words in two separate learning environments, a tutorial room and an operating theatre. They were then asked to recall the words in both environments. While in the operating theatre participants wore appropriate surgical clothing and assembled around an operating table. While in the tutorial room, participants dressed casually and were seated around a table. Students experienced the same duration (15 minutes) and disruption in both environments.
The mean recall score from the 28 tests performed in the same environment was 12.96 +/− 3.93 (mean, SD). The mean recall score from the 28 tests performed in an alternative environment to the learning episode was 13.5 +/− 5.31(mean, SD), indicating that changing the recall environment from the learning environment does not cause any statistical difference (p=0.58). The average recall score of participants who learned and recalled in the tutorial room was 13.0 +/− 3.84 (mean, SD). The average recall score of participants who learnt and recalled in the operating theatre was 12.92 +/− 4.18 (mean, SD), representing no significant difference between the two environments for learning (p=0.4792).
The results support the continued use of tutorial rooms and operating theatres as appropriate environments in which to teach medical students, with no significant difference in information recall seen either due to a same context effect or specific context effect.