Active Learning in a Year 2 Pathology Curriculum

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Purpose: Team-based learning (TBL) has been successfully used in non-medical curricula, but its effectiveness in medical education has not been studied extensively. We evaluated the impact of TBL on the academic performance of Year 2 medical students at Wright State University by comparing this active learning strategy against a traditional method of case-based group discussion (CBGD).

Methods: A prospective crossover design assigned 83 Year 2 medical students to either CBGD or TBL for 8 pathology modules in the systems-based curriculum. The effectiveness of both learning methods was assessed by performance on pathology-based examination questions contained in end-of-course examinations. The highest and lowest academic quartiles of students were evaluated separately. Students' opinions of both methods were surveyed.

Results: No significant differences in whole group performance on pathology-based examination questions were observed as a consequence of experiencing TBL versus CBGD. However, students in the lowest academic quartile showed better examination performance after experiencing TBL than CBGD in 4 of 8 modules (P = 0.035). Students perceived that the contributions of peers to learning were more helpful during TBL than CBGD (P = 0.003).

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that TBL and CBGD are equally effective active learning strategies when employed in a systems-based pre-clinical pathology curriculum, but students with lower academic performance may benefit more from TBL than CBGD.