Innovative Learning by Teaching


By Mike Severo, PT

Lecture style teaching has been around since the 16th Century and has remained the predominant style of education for healthcare professionals for the last 500 years. It began as the most economical way to educate a large number of students in a structured manner. Why does it remain so common today, when we know the limitations of lecture style format and the effectiveness of alternative methods of education?

Unfortunately, continuing education instruction is not that different and has not changed much from our traditional institutional learning, structured mentored programs such as residencies and fellowship are an exception, but require substantial investments in time and money. What little evidence exists on the effectiveness of traditional weekend courses and webinars shows they do not change clinical outcomes. As life-long learners, we know this to be true from our own continuing education experiences. Despite knowledgeable, well intended and even dynamic presenters and/or our own interest or motivation in taking a course, we often head back to the clinic not remembering everything we learned and/or with very little new information to put in clinical practice.

We actually forget things at an alarming rate as evidenced by the “Forgetting Curve”. Yes, this is a real thing. It was a single case study back in the mid 1800’s that was later validated by neuroscientist that showed how quickly we forget information. In as early as one hour, we can forget almost half of the information and after one day, we only retain 1/3 of the content.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve


Another factoid working against us is our ever-shortening attention span. Microsoft found that since the year 2000, our attention span dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds which is officially less than a goldfish. It’s actually quite impressive you are still reading. Stay with me. In this study, Microsoft looked at the average time a person stayed with a website before leaving. It is commonly accepted that the adult attention span in an academic setting is in the 10 to15 minute range, with a drastic drop-off after 10 minutes. This seems to occur for various reason, but mostly due to a cognitive overload as we try to assimilate new information. Relevance of the material, style of the lecture and enthusiasm of the presenter are factors that can improve attention span and recall, but only minimally within the 10-15 range. TED talks are limited to 18 minutes because “they are long enough to have a serious presentation, but short enough to hold a person’s attention”.

I imagine you are nodding your head, not to stay awake, of course, but in agreement. We have been our own case studies in the continuing education space since we became adult learners, yet we need to get those CEU’s and use our allotted money so we wash-rinse-repeat.

We can do better! We need to do better if we are going to have a more immediate impact on clinical outcomes and stake our claim as direct access providers. This is not a criticism of all continuing education. I have had the benefit of learning from some of the very best. The content, however, was delivered with various modes, incorporating video, lab skills, peer-to-peer feedback, participant interaction and exchange of ideas and experiences. Brilliant! There has been a growing body of evidence for decades that experiential, autonomous, peer to peer, E-learning, video learning and learning in small doses are all superior to lecture style. As early as the 1960’s, the National Training and Laboratories Institute (NTL) showed that the best way to learn was actually to teach. By teaching, learners are able to retain 90% of what they are able to teach others. When learners teach, they better prepare and questions they are asked help develop a deeper meaning and longer-term understanding of material. Teaching others has also been shown to improve self-efficacy and communication skills.

The Learning Pyramid

Another emerging learning format shown to be extremely effective is video learning in small doses. This makes sense given what we know about our attention span and our challenged ability to recall new information. Guo et al showed the optimal video length for student engagement is six minutes or less. They examined the average length of time students watched streaming videos from 6.9 million video watching sessions. Videos six minutes or less were completed 100% of the time, but started to decline after the six-minute mark. Again, as consumers of information, this might not surprise you. I personally pass right by any DIY video greater than 4:23 seconds, what is your cut-off?

Student Engagement Videos Remote PT Network

In order to have a greater and more immediate impact on our clinical outcomes we need access to continuing education that is timely, relevant, interactive, cost-effective and presented in a way that maximizes recall and understanding. Remote PT Network combines the two powerful and effective learning methods, learning by teaching and short burst video learning, with other adult learning principles in a community based social networking environment in order to accomplish this very thing.

Join us and begin learning in an innovative way by teaching and engaging with your peers. Learn at your own pace, with content relative to your interests in the comfort and convenience of wherever you are at the time. Help make a difference.

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