Recently, I reconnected with my now retired sixth grade teacher.He had gone on to become the principal of our high school, but I will forever be grateful to him for teaching me how to really learn
He innately recognized that my strengths were in math and science and my weaknesses were in writing and reading. Therefore, he mandated that I spend an extra time each day doing what I hated the most, reading and spelling drills. Although very painful at the time, practicing what I disliked the most helped me become a better-rounded student in hindsight. Unfortunately, as adults, very few of us have the benefit of a learning coach who recognizes our personal learning challenges and creates an educational plan for us to improve. Advanced electronic learning platforms may someday have that capability to guide our learning and help us recognize our own cognitive shortcomings. Imagine when I am reviewing all of general surgery for my recertification examination, this learning coach will prevent me from just focusing on the endocrine surgery questions (I am fellowship trained in endocrine surgery) and instead create a learning plan that focuses on breast surgery (not my best topic). This benign version of "Hal," the malevolent supercomputer from Stanley Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey, would provide access to knowledge, skills, tools, and advice at the time that information is needed at an individual learner level. This integration of cognitive science with experiential learning would reduce the need for linear training and allow learners the freedom and safety to explore topics they did not even know they wondered about.
Sure this is currently science fiction, but it's fun to imagine and dream.
Roy Phitayakorn, MD MHPE (MEd)
Dr. Roy Phitayakorn is Director of Surgical Education Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Surgical Lead for Strategic Initiatives and Operations for the Massachusetts General Hospital Learning Laboratory. Roy enjoys being a foodie, antiquing, and exploring the world with his wife Angel.