Study Suggests Spaced Education May Improve Learning for Medical Students
'Spaced education' refers to online educational programs that are structured to present information in small increments and reinforce learning by repetition. This randomized trial investigated whether online spaced education could generate significant, topic-specific learning in urology, and not just improve retention. The spaced education intervention used in this study was delivered to 115 medical students at two medical schools (Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine) as an adjunct to a core online education program that all third-year students were required to complete during their 3-month surgery clerkships. Spaced education e-mails targeted two of four urology topics: prostate cancer and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and erectile dysfunction. Investigators assessed the acquisition of learning over time by students' pre-test scores as well as delayed test (280 days later) scores.
Findings show that students who received the spaced education e-mails demonstrated significant, topic-specific increases in pre-test scores for both prostate cancer/PSA knowledge and BPH/erectile dysfunction knowledge. Spaced education also improved the long-term retention of prostate cancer/PSA knowledge, but not BPH/erectile dysfunction knowledge. Moreover, students demonstrated a substantial decline in their urology knowledge in between the post-test and delayed test in both topic areas. Thus, while prospective spaced education can improve learning and retention, it does not appear to be enough to shift urology learning into long-term memory.
Kerfoot B and Brotschi E. Online spaced education to teach urology to medical students: A multi-institutional randomized trial. American Journal of Surgery January 2009;197(1):89-95.
Dr. Kerfoot was supported by an HSR&D Career Development Award and is part of the VA Boston Healthcare System.