Reaping the benefits of active learning

Featured in The Star on 11th December 2014.

The role of pharmacists has evolved, requiring them to play a bigger part these days than just dispensing medicine.

To train and prepare its students as the new generation of pharmacists, the School of Pharmacy at Monash University Malaysia has since introduced active learning elements into its curriculum.

Active learning is a term for curriculum and activities which allow students to learn in an interactive and engaging manner as opposed to the traditional teaching method where students sit passively in class, listening to lectures.

Students get to attend classes that incorporate case studies, scenarios, mind maps, quizzes and videos, among other things in the learning process.

The school’s active learning coordinator and senior lecturer, Dr Vivienne Mak said, active learning normally required students to listen to pre-recorded/articulate lectures at home before attending classes, allowing them to identify any misconception developed during their self-directed learning.

‘The difference with our pre-recorded learning is that students will get 15 to 20 minutes of lecture clips, followed by an in-depth discussion on the material.

“Subsequently, they will have to participate in clicker questions or mind mapping, question and answer (Q&A) sessions or case studies and apply what they have learned in class,” she said.

Dr. Mak said focus groups involving students who have participated in active learning programmes showed many of them have benefited from this new teaching method.

“In didactic lectures, students do not get time for Q&A but when we have quizzes, it allows them to test their knowledge ad skills and be provided with immediate feedback.”

“They also get to observe how others are answering the same question. All these enable them to assess themselves without having to wait until mid-term or final exams,” she said.

She said the pharmacy proession was becoming more patient-centric and those in the field were required to provided services to their customers in a holistic manner,

“When you are in practice, there are no lecture notes to guide you. That is why we need to train our students to think differently and be independent lifelong learners. They must learn how to apply their knowledge in different situations.”

Mak said activities such as group discussions and presentations during active learning sessions would also help boost students’ confidence to communicate with patients and other health professionals,

“The spirit of teamwork and the ability to communicate with others have become increasingly important as pharmacists nowadays have to work more closely with other health professionals, including doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals.”

Although it may mean more preparation work for the lecturers, Mak said they embraced the change in the teaching method as soon as they saw the benefits and the positive comments from students.

“This new teaching method helps us (the lecturers) to think more of certain topics and issues as students may ask questions that ourselves have not considered before.

“The interaction and engagement with the students during the Q&A sessions, debates and discussions give us the encouragement and job satisfaction as lecturers,” she said.

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