Part of the challenge in creating any simulation-based learning encounter is the interactions that occurs with subject matter experts to serve as a source that helps to guide the design of the event. The challenge lies within the fact that as healthcare providers ascend to a position of expertise many of their thoughts and approaches to the clinical situation at hand undergo automaticity in terms of the way decisions are made or procedures are executed. No longer does an experienced surgeon think step-by-step on how to create a knot. They rely on muscle memory, experience and packaged expertise to complete the task. Similarly, a skilled diagnostician will often identify a clinical condition or stratification of the level of criticality of a patient seemingly by intuition that can occur in a brief encounter. But it is not luck or intuition. It is the honed art of observation combined with a stepwise knowledge stratification process combined with experience that has been integrated over time and bundled, or packaged, into what we call expertise.
Getting the experienced healthcare provider to unpack their expertise into tangible stepwise learning events can be the key to creating effective educational encounters. More simply put, aligning the mind of the expert to walk in the shoes of the novice and try to recall their own experiences as novices will help to create more effective learning counters. It is quite difficult for experts in areas of complex cognition or psychomotor skill areas (healthcare) to relate to the needs of the junior learner. The junior learner who is on the journey to expertise has varying needs for granular application of individual pieces of learning along with the experience and mentoring that allows the connection of seemingly disparate small chunks of information into a fluid situation that allows for analysis and application of the final product (i.e. the delivery of healthcare).
This unpacking of expertise can effectively be carried out by ensuring that curricular activities address the need of learning and multiple stages of progress. Similarly, it is often a successful practice to combine several different individuals, perhaps with different vantage points with regard to levels of proficiency and even core expertise. This promotes a design environment that promotes a successful deconstruction of an expert situation into a series of tasks that require competence in component form, integration, practice and implementation. This is exceptionally true in healthcare where there is great variability in the process of acquiring information, analysis and affecting treatment that will be eventually rendered for a given patient for a given situation. I.e. in healthcare there are often times that there are many right answers.
There are several structured method of Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA) in the literature that are used in various forms in many different industries. The essential underlying element of the HTA is the breaking down complicated situations into their component forms. This is a method that while time-consuming, can lead to effective strategies to build learning platforms, and in particular help guide the creation of assessment tools in simulation to help promote formative step-wise learning toward expertise. While this discussion is focusing on simulation, conceptually this applies to all aspects of education design in healthcare that will likely help us increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs. After all isn’t simulation a subset of healthcare education? Now there’s a concept worth remembering!