Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Medical Education and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research article

Using a conceptual framework during learning attenuates the loss of expert-type knowledge structure

Kerry Novak, Henry Mandin, Elizabeth Wilcox and Kevin McLaughlin*

Author Affiliations

University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Education 2006, 6:37  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-6-37

Published: 18 July 2006



During evolution from novice to expert, knowledge structure develops into an abridged network organized around pathophysiological concepts. The objectives of this study were to examine the change in knowledge structure in medical students in one year and to investigate the association between the use of a conceptual framework (diagnostic scheme) and long-term knowledge structure.


Medical students' knowledge structure of metabolic alkalosis was studied after instruction and one year later using concept-sorting. Knowledge structure was labeled 'expert-type' if students shared ≥ 2 concepts with experts and 'novice-type' if they shared < 2 concepts. Conditional logistic regression was used to study the association between short-term knowledge structure, the use of a diagnostic scheme and long-term knowledge structure.


Thirty-four medical students completed the concept-sorting task on both occasions. Twenty-four used a diagnostic scheme for metabolic alkalosis. Short-term knowledge structure was not a correlate of long-term knowledge structure, whereas use of a diagnostic scheme was associated with increased odds of expert-type long-term knowledge structure (odds ratio 12.6 [1.4, 116.0], p = 0.02). There was an interaction between short-term knowledge structure and the use of a diagnostic scheme. In the group who did not use a diagnostic scheme the number of students changing from expert-type to novice-type was greater than vice versa (p = 0.046). There was no significant change in the group that used the diagnostic scheme (p = 0.6).


The use of a diagnostic scheme by students may attenuate the loss of expert-type knowledge structure.