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Washington Post Photo: Time to Rid of Sage on the Stage


Photo from the Washington Post, July 29, 2017

Today’s article by Lenny Bernstein in the Washington Post describes the University of Vermont Medical School moving almost totally away from lectures in its curriculum. In fact, it is following the trend in medical schools started by Case Western University 13 years ago.

Medical School without the ‘Sage on the Stage’ – Washington Post
The key elements may be blended online/face-to-face learning, interactive discussions, etc., but the evidence shows, the lectures are not the most effective way to foster learning. Active learning needs to be a bigger part of what we do in veterinary medicine soon. Let’s keep an eye on the University of Vermont, discussed in this article, Harvard, Stanford and Case Western medical schools. We should be actively discussing how to overcome the impediments, for the sake of our students, and perhaps our profession. It is about creating student-centric collaborative learning opportunities for students. The reason that blended learning has gained headway is because the online platform allows customization of the student learning experience, adaptation to student needs, and embedding of formative assessment (Piehler, 2016).The expectation should be achievement of a certain level of competency,  and, ideally, would allow for differing rates of completion. 

Such  experiential learning has been shown to drive deep-seated long-lasting learning. In a meta-analysis of 45 educational research studies showed a 35% improved learning outcome in blended learning environments (p<0.001) when compared to purely face-to-face instruction. Purely online instruction was not different than purely face-to-face instruction (Means et al, 2013).
Research supports the approach. As outlined in the article, another team of researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the analysis of 225 studies comparing active learning vs. lectures. Active learning improved test scores about 6 percent, but what was more impressive was it reduced the tendency of a student to fail by 33% (Freeman et al., 2014). Isn’t part of our job as teachers to keep curiosity levels high, and to help students achieve a certain level of achievement?

It is coming to a veterinary school near you very soon….but who will be the first?  Perhaps the most feasible approach is to create blocks of instruction that employ blended learning, and allow the most interested faculty to demonstrate to their colleagues and students that the initial transitional effort is worth it, even if it just increases the level of student engagement (i.e. curiosity and student-centered learning). Given academic promotion systems at most Research I universities, each institution may need to rethink how it defines successful teaching. Is it only by high student evaluation scores, or is it by the demonstration of longer term learning, through the sometimes uncomfortable processes (for both “sages” and students) of allowing students to drive their own learning through interactive case scenarios or collaborative problem-solving? Isn’t that what they’ll need to do as graduates anyways?

Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK,  Okoroafora N, Jordt H, Wenderotha MP (2014).  Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc Nat Acad Sci 111(23):8410–8415. URL:; accessed July 29, 2017.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., and Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115 (030303): 1-47.

Piehler C (2016) Three ways blended learning improves student outcomes. The Learning Counsel, URL: Accessed July 23, 2017.