Beware of the Educational Evangelist!

beware educational evangelistThey are everywhere now days like characters in pokemon go. They seem to hang out in high concentration around new simulation centers.

You know the type. Usually they start off by saying how terrible it is for someone to give a lecture. Then they go on to espouse the virtues and values of student – centered education claiming active participation and small group learning is the pathway to the glory land. They often toss in terms like “flipped classroom”. And just to ensure you don’t question their educational expertise they use a word ending with “-gogy” in the same paragraph as the phrase “evidence-based”.

If you ask them where they have been in the last six months you find out that they probably went to a weekend healthcare education reform retreat or something equivalent…….

My principal concern with the today’s educational evangelist is that they are in search of a new way of doing everything. Often times they recommend complete and total overhauls to existing curriculum without regard to a true understanding of how to efficiently and effectively improve, and/or analyze the existing resources required to carry out such changes.

Further, the evangelist usually has a favorite methodology such as “small group learning”, “problem-based learning” or “simulation-based learning” that they are trying to convert everyone to through prophecy.

An easy target of all educational evangelist is the lecture, and often that is where the prophecy begins. They usually want to indicate that if lecture is happening, learning is not. As I discussed in a previous blog article lecture is not dead, and when done well, can be quite engaging and create significant opportunities for learning and is maximally efficient in terms of resources.

If you think about a critically it is just as easy to do lousy small group facilitation as it is to do a lousy lecture. Thus, the potential gains in learning will not achieve maximal potential. The difference is small group facilitation like simulation, generally take significantly more faculty resources.

The truth is the educational evangelist is a great person to have in and amongst the team. Their desire for change, generally instilled with significant passion are often a source of great energy. When harnessed they can help advance and revise curricula to maximize, and modernize various educational programs.

However, to be maximally efficient all significant changes should undergo pre-analysis, hopefully derived from a needs assessment, whether it is formal or informal. Secondly, it is worth having more than one opinion to decide the prioritization of what needs to be changed in a given curriculum. While the evangelist will be suggestive that the entire curriculum is broken, often times with a more balanced review you find out that there are areas of the curriculum that would benefit from such overhaul, and some aspects that are performing just fine.

When you begin to change aspects of the curriculum, start small and measure the change if possible. Moving forward on a step-by-step basis will usually provide a far better revised curriculum then an approach that “Throws out the baby and the bathwater”. Mix the opinions of the stalwarts of the existing curriculum methods with the evangelists. Challenge existing axioms, myths and entrenched beliefs like “Nothing can replace the real patient for learning….” If this process is led well, it will allow the decision making group to reach a considerably more informed position that will lead to sound decisions, change strategies, and guide investments appropriately.

So if you’re the leader or a member of a team responsible for a given curriculum of healthcare instruction and confronted with the educational evangelist, welcome their participation. Include them in the discussions moving forward with a balanced team of people have them strive to create an objective prioritization of the needs for change. This will allow you to make excellent decisions with regard to new technologies and/or methods that you should likely embrace for your program. More importantly you will avoid tossing out the things that are working and are cost efficient.

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