News and Commentary Using Technology to Help Students Continuously Learn

Ryan Haynes, PhD, and Shiv Gaglani, co-founders of the innovative learning platform, Osmosis, are transforming the way health professions students learn and retain information. The two forward-thinking entrepreneurs, and medical trainees, attended Macy’s Enhancing Health Professions Education through Technology Conference and engaged in discussions to inform Macy’s new recommendations for the field.

We caught up with Shiv and Ryan to learn more about their work and how they see technology as a gateway to enhance health professions education:

Why is continuous learning important in the health professions?
There is compelling evidence that continuous formative assessments are not only an excellent way to review important material, but also to learn in the first place. This is known as test-enhanced learning. If you are not quizzing yourself on topics as you are learning them, you end up cramming. Cramming is a behavior that persists because it works in the short term: the next day you ace the exam. But if you give a student that same exam a few weeks or months later, they will likely fail.

In some fields, forgetting means frustration, but in medicine, forgetting can directly affect a patient’s outcome.

As former medical students, is this something you experienced?
We were first year medical students at Johns Hopkins when it became apparent to us. We had just finished our anatomy course and three weeks into our next course Shiv asked me [Ryan] a question on something we had learned but I couldn’t remember the answer to (something about a certain nerve/muscle interaction). Shiv couldn’t recall either, but what really surprised me was that when we texted a group of friends the same question, four out of the five had forgotten as well.

We started doing some research and found that the problem had actually been well documented, with studies showing that students may forget up to half of what they learn within two years, leading to inefficient learn-forget cycles and contributing to problems with time-based as opposed to competency-based education. That is when we had the idea to help other trainees learn and retain knowledge.

What was your solution?
Osmosis, which was designed by medical students and physicians, is a web and mobile education platform that helps medical, nursing, and other health professions students learn and retain information better. It is the first platform that takes a learner’s curricular information (e.g. course information, exam schedule, clinical rotations, etc.), and on a daily basis, analyzes it all in order to send the student a relevant quiz via mobile push notifications or email. As learners answer the quiz questions Osmosis directs them toward memory tools and recommended resources for a deeper dive on the given topic.

In the end, it is our hope that these kinds of tools will help clinicians learn more efficiently and update their knowledge banks so that they can deliver the highest standard of care.

Also, we are currently building up our network and working with nonprofit partners to bring Osmosis to more students, including a number of resource-limited medical schools in southern Africa. Eventually, we want Osmosis to be free to all students.

How did the discussions during the Macy conference impact how you think about the role technology can play in health professions education?
We were very impressed with everyone at the meeting. It is not every day you are able to get into a room with leaders from health education and technology. The high-quality discussions led to a number of important realizations and recommendations, including the need to differentiate between innovation and improvement. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it will work. And with medicine, you must prove that the tool works, which is something we’ve been doing by performing research and publishing in journals such as the Annals of Internal Medicine and Innovations in Global Medical & Health Education.

The Macy Foundation did an incredible thing by bringing all of these stakeholders together. The conference struck the right chord around what tech can and cannot do, and we are looking forward to seeing the recommendations move organizations and academic institutions forward. It is really an exciting time for health education!

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