How graduate medical education changed how I learn.

While I could start an entire blog devoted to how eight years of medical education – first medical school and then a four-year residency program in obstetrics and gynecology—changed everything about Laura P. Gogia, I’m going to keep it to a single nugget at a time.
In my workplace at Virginia Commonwealth University, we are currently working to develop our very own conceptualization of connected learning: higher education focused, technology-forward, and potentially a hard sell to the faculty at large.  Although we all love the Connected Learning Alliance’s literature, with its student-centered focus, real-world applications and creativity-driven philosophy, some of my colleagues are concerned about what they see as a stance too couched in informal or K-12 learning.  Their concerns lie with the CLA’s position that all learning should be interest powered; in other words, the student needs to be intrinsically interested in anything and everything that they are learning.
I personally don’t have a problem with this assertion.  Yes, in higher education sometimes we have to learn some abstract foundational knowledge before we get to play with the fun applications.  I solve this dilemma by invoking Malcolm Knowles – in 1971 Knowles said that adults need to know why they need to learn something before they learn it.  Ok. So instructors need to do a good job tying the foundational knowledge to the future applications.  Challenging in some cases, but not impossible.  If you consistently show students why they need to know something in order to achieve their goals, you should be able to stimulate intrinsic interest that is required for the connected learning framework.
But all of this talk has led me to reflect on my own experience of formal and informal learning (formal being what you do in academic settings and informal being what you do on your “own time” outside the classroom) and I find that I cannot distinguish between the two, even though I am a PhD student and have spent many a recent hour in the formal classroom.
The reason?
I think four years of graduate medical education, with its potent real-world, situational learning environment, changed the way I approach learning. I think it made me so good at connecting “abstract” learning (see? I can’t even talk about it without quotes) to my life and everyday actions that I cannot conceive of the disconnection between the two ever existing.  If I’m being asked to do something in a formal learning environment that I cannot translate, then I do not do it.  I have been known to negotiate to change the assignment. Or I drop the class. I will not accept education that is not integrated into my entire life.  As John Dewey said, “Education is life and vice versa.”  Or something like that. I’m pretty sure that’s a paraphrase.

Despite all of the bad things I could say about residency programs—and yes, I found my experience quite damaging and medical education reform is most definitely required—I think it made me a skilled connected learner.  In fact, I have no idea how to learn any other way.

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