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Exam Success at Undergraduate and Graduate-Entry Medical Schools: Is Learning Style or Learning Approach More Important? A Critical Review Exploring Links Between Academic Success, Learning Styles, and Learning Approaches Among School-Leaver Entry ("Traditional") and Graduate-Entry ("Nontraditional") Medical Students



Exam Success at Undergraduate and Graduate-Entry Medical Schools: Is Learning Style or Learning Approach More Important? A Critical Review Exploring Links Between Academic Success, Learning Styles, and Learning Approaches Among School-Leaver Entry ("Traditional") and Graduate-Entry ("Nontraditional") Medical Students



Teaching and Learning in Medicine 27(3): 237-244



PHENOMENON: The literature on learning styles over many years has been replete with debate and disagreement. Researchers have yet to elucidate exactly which underlying constructs are measured by the many learning styles questionnaires available. Some academics question whether learning styles exist at all. When it comes to establishing the value of learning styles for medical students, a further issue emerges. The demographics of medical students in the United Kingdom have changed in recent years, so past studies may not be applicable to students today. We wanted to answer a very simple, practical question: what can the literature on learning styles tell us that we can use to help today's medical students succeed academically at medical school? We conducted a literature review to synthesise the available evidence on how two different aspects of learning-the way in which students like to receive information in a learning environment (termed learning "styles") and the motivations that drive their learning (termed learning "approaches")-can impact on medical students' academic achievement. Our review confirms that although learning "styles" do not correlate with exam performance, learning "approaches" do: those with "strategic" and "deep" approaches to learning (i.e., motivated to do well and motivated to learn deeply respectively) perform consistently better in medical school examinations. Changes in medical school entrant demographics in the past decade have not altered these correlations. Optimistically, our review reveals that students' learning approaches can change and more adaptive approaches may be learned. Insights: For educators wishing to help medical students succeed academically, current evidence demonstrates that helping students develop their own positive learning approach using "growth mind-set" is a more effective (and more feasible) than attempting to alter students' learning styles. This conclusion holds true for both "traditional" and graduate-entry medical students.

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Accession: 057826458

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PMID: 26158325

DOI: 10.1080/10401334.2015.1046734


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