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Budding doctors in India not too enthusiastic about learning to keep up with changing times, shows study.

How ready are India's to-be doctors to learn on their own and keep themselves updated with the newest knowledge in the medical field? If the results of a study, involving students of the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, are considered, the answer is a sober ‘average’. The study, conducted by researchers at CMC and the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, was published in the journal BMC Medical Education.

Most of us would be familiar with learning as a school or college activity, where a prescribed syllabus is set for study. Once those years pass, learning anything new becomes optional. However, doctors need to learn throughout their life as the field of medicine is transforming each passing day. Hence, self-directed learning, where one plans, implements and evaluates his or her efforts independently, becomes paramount. With this perspective, the Medical Council of India (MCI) has also modified its syllabus to promote lifelong learning among medical students. However, is there a readiness among students? The study set to explore this question.

The researchers conducted a survey among 453 students and some faculty from CMC and analysed their responses. Their analyses revealed that the readiness for self- directed learning among students is 'average'. Those in their final year of the course were least ready compared to newly admitted ones. The study found that gender and age had no role in determining the spirit for self-learning. Although most students understood the importance of being self-directed, a few constraints were impacting their ability to become a better self-learner.

The medical course curriculum, regular assessments and cultural background of the students play a role in the readiness for self-directed learning, say the researchers. Today's medical programs are exam-oriented with a rigid curriculum, and there is a little room for self-learning.

“Students need assistance to improve their self-management skills to take control over his or her own learning especially in respect to time, resources and learning strategies due to the packed curriculum”, the researchers point out.

What approaches can then motivate students to learn better on their own? An interactive lecture or introduction to a new clinical case might help new students to expand their knowledge, suggest the researchers. Senior medical students could be motivated through practical case discussions, observing doctors serving in the clinics, or during their training days in the clinical wards, they say. The researchers also stress the need for modifying the existing teaching and learning activities to provide an environment for the students to polish and promote their self-learning abilities.

“Given the decline in self-directed learning readiness between batches of students from admission year to the final year of studies and its importance in medicine, the current curriculum may require an increase in learning activities that promote self-directed learning", conclude the authors.