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Using Learning Theories and New Technology

Professor Redesigns Learning Material to Engage Medical Students

Article by Emma Zado, Idaho WWAMI Medical Education Program


Medical education has come a long way, but the implementation of a 2005 learning theory can make it go further.   

Idaho WWAMI Clinical Assistant Professor Tyler Bland recently published research regarding multimedia PowerPoint slide design and how it impacts medical education, by comparing medical student grades and lecture satisfaction levels when learning from multimedia lecture slides versus text-based lecture slides.  

Based on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning (CTML), which implies that people learn better when images are combined with text, Bland converted text-heavy pharmacology curriculum into visually appealing, image-based slides.  

“This theory has been around for a while but hasn’t been implemented well in Idaho WWAMI classes,” Bland said. “If you look at a lot of our lectures, they are dense text. That forces the professor to read the text to the students. But our students are smart and know how to read. It’s not helpful for the lecturer to stand up front and to read the slide to them. Multimedia slides allow the lecturer to walk students through the picture and show them how these things work.” 

I was surprised that 100% of the students preferred my slides. I was not expecting all of them to prefer them. Tyler Bland, Idaho WWAMI clinical assistant professor

With this in mind, Bland focused on two things; visual continuity throughout the slides and creating what he called “high yield” slides, introductory slides that condensed all of the critical lecture points into one dynamic subject overview.

“There’s a lot of meat and potatoes in this one slide,” he said. “I tried to take the entire lecture and squish it into one single slide. If you get anything out of this lecture, get that.”

By using the academic structure of the WWAMI system, Bland was able to compare Moscow WWAMI students to those in the other WWAMI regions.

“Everybody in WWAMI-land gets the same slides — Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington,” Bland said. “All those students get the exact same slides on almost the exact same day. They get the exact same exam and exact same questions on those slides. Basically, everybody is getting the same materials — unless somebody changes them.”

So, Bland changed all the Moscow slides, giving his students his updated multimedia ones.

A depiction of the chemistry occurring in the kidney.
Example multimedia slide design about the inner workings of the kidney.

“I compared Moscow students, which is experimental because they received new slides, to the Seattle students, who received the traditional ones,” Bland said. “I looked solely at their pharmacology grade across the different subject blocks. The updated slides either had no effect, which is not detrimental, or they helped.”

Students’ overall pharmacology grades increased with the multimedia slides. Most notably, in the Cardiovascular Pulmonary Renal (CPR) block, Moscow students scored about 5% higher pharmacology rates on their exams than Seattle students.

In the future Bland plans to run another study, analyzing student grades once multimedia slides have been integrated throughout multiple subjects. He predicts that student grades will be higher across all subjects.

Tyler Bland, headshot.
Tyler Bland, Idaho WWAMI clinical assistant professor.

But grades weren’t the only thing that mattered. Would students prefer Bland’s new lecture slides, or would they want to stick with the old ones?

“I was surprised that 100% of the students preferred my slides,” Bland said. “I was not expecting all of them to prefer them.”

Student satisfaction was measured through a situational interest survey for multimedia, which looked at the interest levels of students. Students were asked open-ended questions relating to their interest in the slide content, and satisfaction in the presentation.

The survey results were then analyzed for common themes signaling student satisfaction, using ChatGPT.

Bland and his team reviewed the AI generated results for accuracy and edited accordingly. He said that this process took minutes as opposed to days’ worth of time.

“I’m not 100% certain, but as far as I’m aware, we are the first to have a peer reviewed, published article to use Chat GPT to perform a thematic analysis of our survey results,” Bland said.

Bland’s pharmacology lecture slides, rooted in CTML and preferred by students, are now in use across all of WWAMI and are available for other universities to use on BlandPharm.

“I hope that the design principles, specifically the conversion of text to image is something that can get integrated across medical education,” Bland said. “If I can have a pretty picture up front that we can walk through, students are going to choose that way every time.”

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