PhD, Lecturer at LIME, Karolinska Institutet Stockholm
Research coordinator at Clinical skills and simulation centre, Karolinska University Hospital
BSSc 2007 Major in education
PhD 2012 with thesis: Technology in education: necessary but not sufficient. Understanding learning with virtual patients
Link to thesis: http://hdl.handle.net/10616/41064
Educators are using digital technology in education, but how do learners benefit from their use?
My research topic is student learning using digital technology in the health professions education. More specifically, the research topic is knowledge on how best to integrate virtual patients into courses in undergraduate health professions education. Virtual patients are patient cases that are presented on the computer screen to facilitate learning. The topic combines knowledge from different interesting disciplines such as education (how do students learn) and informatics (design of tools). Traditionally the emphasis has been on the characteristics of tools rather than how students learn. The tools are important, and their designs (software and hardware) have implications on how they are being used, and consequently, how students learn by using them. However, in my previous work in developing virtual patients I realized that other, surrounding aspects need to align and facilitate learning.
Three dimensions can be identified to understand how students learn using virtual patients. 1) The design of the tool itself (virtual patients or other e-learning tools), 2) the learning activities that relates to the use of the tool, and 3) the overarching pedagogical strategy (theory) that relates to the intended development of the learner and curriculum planning.
The third, overarching dimension comprises both research theories on how people learn and theories for curriculum design. In my work I relate to Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) that was systematized by David Kolb in 1984. The theory provides a framework in which personal experience is at the center of learning. This experience transforms into learning and interplay with abstract knowledge and theories in a reflective process. Because of the importance of the personal experience, learners’ previous knowledge and values are needed to take into account. A Dutch researcher, Jan Vermunt, has developed scales (questionnaires) for measuring students’ preferences for study strategies. A central concept in his research is Self-regulated learning which means that students use their own motivation and monitor their own learning to a great extent in the learning process. Students that rely more on teacher and course regulation prefer an external regulated study strategy. In my research I was surprised to find that the external regulation seemed to influence the perceived benefit of the virtual patient learning activity to a greater extent than their self-regulation (paper in manuscript). Furthermore, different approaches to course follow-up of the virtual patient cases related to differences in perceived benefit (Edelbring et al. 2012). From this I draw the conclusion that the same software and cases can be more or less beneficial for learning dependent on how they are being integrated in a course setting using various learning activities (dimension 2). What about dimension 1, the design of the tool? I know from students’ expression in questionnaires and interviews that the designs of virtual patient (and of course other kinds of digital learning software) facilitates or hinders activities that the learner wants to do. However, having worked with design of virtual patients I needed on a personal level to back off a bit from design questions when embarking on educational research on the use of these, in order to not be hindered by my own assumptions and preconceptions of these (Edelbring et al., 2011).
There are several research questions relating to learning using digital technology, simulation and virtual patients in the health professions. Some burning issues are: how and when do collaborative learning contribute to learning using virtual patients? How can virtual patients stimulate self-regulated learning and decision-making? How can virtual patients be used in assessment, self-assessment and remediation of students? How can virtual patients be used for interprofessional education? These and other questions will keep me and my PhD students busy for the next couple of years.