Experience-based learning: how a crisis solution informed fundamental change in a clinical education curriculum

Costello, Maria
Cantillon, Peter
Geoghegan, Rosemary
Byrne, Dara
Lowery, Aoife
Walsh, Sinead M.
Costello, Maria, Cantillon, Peter, Geoghegan, Rosemary, Byrne, Dara, Lowery, Aoife, & Walsh, Sinead M. (2022). Experience-based learning: how a crisis solution informed fundamental change in a clinical education curriculum. The Clinical Teacher, 19(1), 42-47. doi:
Background Clinical education represents the most important formative period in undergraduate medical education. It is often criticised as haphazard and inefficient. Experience-based learning (ExBL) is a novel clinical education design that utilises practices of support, learner participation and real patient learning to enhance students' development of vital professional capabilities. We introduced ExBL to address the challenges of a 50% reduction in clinical placement time that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approach Final year medical students were assimilated into clinical teams as co-workers to facilitate learning through participation rather than observation. Placement education was supported by an integrated case-based learning and high-fidelity simulation program. Real patient learning in workplace contexts was supported by a network of clinician mentors. Evaluation A qualitative evaluation revealed that granting students co-worker status strongly supported participatory learning and professional identity formation. Furthermore, the triangulation of placements with cognitive coaching and high-fidelity simulation greatly enhanced skills development and students' sense of readiness for practice. Implications Utilisation of ExBL significantly enhanced the quality of informal learning on clinical placements despite the reduced clinical placement time. In addition, the integration of cognitive coaching with simulation opportunities meant students were better prepared for meaningful participation as members of clinical teams. The introduction of ExBL increased the workload of clinical teachers. Moreover, favouring learning through participatory experience reduced exposure to more traditional formal bedside teaching encounters. Despite these challenges, we have adopted an ExBL model created in a crisis as our core educational design for our final year clinical programme.
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