Academic e-Coach: Artifacts

Online Learning in Med School

There are several significant advantages inherent in an online learning modality: You're free to schedule the timing and determine the pace of your own learning, and you're able to discover what is for you, at any given moment, a manageable cognitive load.

In general, the principles of learning that apply to traditional (paper-&-lecture-hall–based) learning also apply to online learning. Although the method for delivering content has changed, the strategies to successfully process and learn material remain, to a large extent, unaltered.

  • Avoid passive learning: Don’t just read or listen & expect yourself to retain material—stop frequently to formulate questions, consider implications, and envision applications
  • Take frequent short breaks: Avoid cognitive overload
  • Don’t just copy & paste content: Develop a consistent cognitive schema & introduce variability into your approach to learning—summarize & re-organize the content, make flow charts & diagrams
  • Engage in frequent self-testing
  • Review content with peers or attend PREP  sessions

When learning in an online modality, you'll also need to become adept at dodging distractions.  Successful online learning requires highly developed prioritization, concentration (it’s no secret that the internet is an asteroid belt of distractions), and self-regulation if you're not going to fall behind.

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Time Management in Med School

You can never really manage time; you can, though, manage your attitude towards it. If you persistently think of yourself as having an antagonistic relationship to time—beating the clock, racing against (and sometimes even trying to 'kill'!) time—you'll probably spend most of your waking hours feeling frustrated and exhuasted. As you might  already have discovered, Time is an indomitable opponent. However, by the simple switch of one preposition for another (working against time' deftly becoming 'working with or within time'), accompanied by collateral shifts in attitude and behaviour, you'll find yourself unexpectedly strolling companionably with the selfsame Time that had once seemed so fierce and unassailable an adversary. Okay, so how is this accomplished...?

  • Don't start by making a schedule. Most of us tend to make a schedule for the person we want to be, who rarely (if ever) corresponds AT ALL to the person we really are. Then we beat ourselves up for sleeping past our 5 a.m. alarm or ignoring a 'study plan' that looks great on our online calendar but fails to anticipate a week of  especially challenging course content.
  • Do keep a record, or log, of how you spend your time.  Pay attention to how long you can stay with a task before you get tired or distracted.  Note whether your ability to attend to complex learning challenges is best at certain times of day, on certain days of the week, or in certain environments. Only after you've first identifed your best, and worst, conditions for learning can you begin to put together a realistic schedule or learning plan.
  • Do use a single system to keep track of all your obligations, both personal and academic. You might want to use something like Steve Covey's Quadrants to distinguish between tasks that seem 'urgent' and those that are 'important':

  • Don't confuse making it through a module with having mastered its content. It's all too easy to suppose, erroneously, that because you're familiar with a subject, or even fluent in it, that you've adequately learned it. Learning takes time. When you're making a schedule or a learning plan, be sure to allow sufficient time to think, question, wonder, ponder, view and re-view, interpret, anticipate, apply....
  • Do plan ahead. But anticipate interruption &, even, disruption. Life happens. Be sure your schedule is flexible enough to acknowledge—and even to welcome—it when it arrives at your doorstep.
  • Do allow time in your schedule for the things (friends, family, activities) that remind you who you are and why you're here.


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Notes on Procrastination in Med School

Some students arrive here knowing that, along with their laptop and lab coat, Procrastination will be somewhere in the jumble of academic paraphernalia that clutters their spanking new MD backpacks.  Bright students tend to learn pretty quickly (usually in high school) that getting a head start on studying is rarely, if ever, worth the effort: Many of you will have discovered, at some point, that when you spent a long time working on an assignment, or started studying for an exam weeks ahead of time, you received an A+. But one day, you might have discovered, to your initial surprise and subsequent delight, that when you cobbled together an assignment just hours before it was due, or studied for an exam the night before you wrote it, you A+. You learned that procrastinating was just as effective as working at a measured, diligent, and deliberate pace—and, with the unwavering focus that so often attends a sense of urgency, leaving things to the last minute probably also felt a lot more efficient.

There can be other contributing factors, too. Procrastination and Perfectionism are the Scylla and Charybdis of higher education. Students who are by nature perfectionists will often feel yourselves irresistibly pulled into the maelstrom of procrastination, as well. By not putting 100 per cent of yourself into studying, you always have the ready excuse for others and (most importantly) for yourself—if you don't do as well as you'd hoped or expected—that you "could have done better" if you'd taken the time or trouble to 'really' study. Moreover, intelligent students frequently attribute their academic success to innate ability, not hard work. In fact, there's often the niggling ('though rarely articulated) misapprehension that if someone has to spend a long time studying, then maybe they're "really not that smart," after all.

For many bright students, procrastination becomes a problem only when you find yourself in a truly challenging academic environment, such as this, where EVERYONE is very, very intelligent, and where the volume of information is so great that it simply cannot be mastered in one night. If procrastination is becoming a problem for you, you might try some of the following suggestions and strategies:

  • After first tracking your time to identify your best, and worst, times of day for learning, make at least a rough schedule of what you plan to do, when and where (there's 24-hr dedicated study space available for MD students) you plan to do it. Specific goals often obviate having to decide 'what to do next' (which is the path of no return for most procrastinators).
  • Don't underestimate how productive you can be in half an hour. This is especially true when working with online modules, which are designed for quick and easy access and (relatively) short periods of interaction.
  • Try to determine if you're procrastinating because you're
    • avoiding dealing with feeling  confused by the content or overwhelmed and uncertain about where to begin (OHPSA's academic coach might be a good place to get help with these)
    • grappling with a personal issue, especially if you've occasionally struggled in the past with anxiety or depression (one of OHPSA's personal counsellors might be a good place to get help with this)
    • simply needing a well-deserved break: Taking an evening off to spend time with family or friends—or just to enjoy some downtime alone—often results in your feeling  re-energized and motivated to get back to your studies.
  • Be strategic. If you haven't managed to get through a module, don't let it put you off your game.  Don't decide that there's no point in attending a lecture or CBL session. Try to do some aspect of the assigned work: skim the topics covered or choose one section to look at in detail. That way, you won't feel completely lost in class and can contribute to group discussions. Then make a plan for catching up on the material you didn't get around to studying (OHPSA's Academic Coach can help with this)
    • Remember: The time you waste worrying about having fallen behind can more productively be spent in catching up.

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