Open Access Research article

Teachers’ perceptions of aspects affecting seminar learning: a qualitative study

Annemarie Spruijt1*, Ineke Wolfhagen2, Harold Bok1, Eva Schuurmans1, Albert Scherpbier2, Peter van Beukelen1 and Debbie Jaarsma3

Author affiliations

1 Utrecht University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Quality Improvement in Veterinary Education, Yalelaan 1, PO Box 80.163, 3508, Utrecht, TD, the Netherlands

2 Maastricht University, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, PO Box 616, 6200, Maastricht, MD, the Netherlands

3 University of Amsterdam, Academic Medical Centre, PO Box 22.600, 1100, Amsterdam, DD, the Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:22  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-22

Published: 12 February 2013



Many medical schools have embraced small group learning methods in their undergraduate curricula. Given increasing financial constraints on universities, active learning groups like seminars (with 25 students a group) are gaining popularity. To enhance the understanding of seminar learning and to determine how seminar learning can be optimised it is important to investigate stakeholders’ views. In this study, we qualitatively explored the views of teachers on aspects affecting seminar learning.


Twenty-four teachers with experience in facilitating seminars in a three-year bachelor curriculum participated in semi-structured focus group interviews. Three focus groups met twice with an interval of two weeks led by one moderator. Sessions were audio taped, transcribed verbatim and independently coded by two researchers using thematic analysis. An iterative process of data reduction resulted in emerging aspects that influence seminar learning.


Teachers identified seven key aspects affecting seminar learning: the seminar teacher, students, preparation, group functioning, seminar goals and content, course coherence and schedule and facilities. Important components of these aspects were: the teachers’ role in developing seminars (‘ownership’), the amount and quality of preparation materials, a non-threatening learning climate, continuity of group composition, suitability of subjects for seminar teaching, the number and quality of seminar questions, and alignment of different course activities.


The results of this study contribute to the unravelling of the ‘the black box’ of seminar learning. Suggestions for ways to optimise active learning in seminars are made regarding curriculum development, seminar content, quality assurance and faculty development.

Seminar learning; Undergraduate (veterinary) medical education; Focus groups; Faculty development