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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Using cognitive theory to facilitate medical education

Yu Qi Qiao14, Jun Shen14, Xiao Liang14, Song Ding24, Fang Yuan Chen34, Li Shao45, Qing Zheng14 and Zhi Hua Ran14*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Ren Ji Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai Institute of Digestive Disease, 160# Pu Jian Road, Shanghai, China 200127

2 Division of Cardiology, Ren Ji Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 160# Pu Jian Road, Shanghai, China 200127

3 Division of Hematology, Ren Ji Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 160# Pu Jian Road, Shanghai, China 200127

4 Internal medicine teaching and research office, Ren Ji Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 160# Pu Jian Road, Shanghai, China 200127

5 Ren Ji Clinical Medical College, Ren Ji Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 160# Pu Jian Road, Shanghai, China 200127

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:79  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-79

Published: 14 April 2014

Abstract

Background

Educators continue to search for better strategies for medical education. Although the unifying theme of reforms was “increasing interest in, attention to, and understanding of the knowledge base structures”, it is difficult to achieve all these aspects via a single type of instruction.

Methods

We used related key words to search in Google Scholar and Pubmed. Related search results on this topic were selected for discussion.

Results

Despite the range of different methods used in medical education, students are still required to memorize much of what they are taught, especially for the basic sciences. Subjects like anatomy and pathology carry a high intrinsic cognitive load mainly because of the large volume of information that must be retained. For these subjects, decreasing cognitive load is not feasible and memorizing appears to be the only strategy, yet the cognitive load makes learning a challenge for many students. Cognitive load is further increased when inappropriate use of educational methods occurs, e.g., in problem based learning which demands clinical reasoning, a high level and complex cognitive skill. It is widely known that experts are more skilled at clinical reasoning than novices because of their accumulated experiences. These experiences are based on the formation of cognitive schemata. In this paper we describe the use of cognitive schemata, developed by experts as worked examples to facilitate medical students’ learning and to promote their clinical reasoning.

Conclusion

We suggest that cognitive load theory can provide a useful framework for understanding the challenges and successes associated with education of medical professionals.

Keywords:
Working memory; Cognitive load theory; Schemata; Clinical reasoning; Worked example; Problem based learning; Clinical presentation curriculum