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Teach Learn Med. 2020 Mar 16:1-9. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2020.1733579. [Epub ahead of print]

In Our Own Time: Medical Students' Informal Social Studying and Learning.

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Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, Canada.
Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.
Endeavor Foundation Center for Faculty Development, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, USA.


Phenomenon: Social studying and learning (SSL) is any independent, elective, self-directed and self-organized approach to learning that involves students working with their peers for the purposes of study, learning, or revision. While in-class collaborative learning has been relatively well-explored, very little is known about how medical students engage in informal SSL or about the impacts it can have. The purpose of this study was to explore medical students' practices and perceptions regarding SSL, and the ways in which this shaped their overall learning experiences. Approach: A constructivist grounded theory study was conducted at the University of Calgary. Data were collected from 23 semi-structured student interviews, which were audio recorded and transcribed. Data were analyzed using iterative data collection, memo-ing, and focused coding. Findings: Despite SSL being a common part of students' medical school experience and something that was promoted by academic advisors, how students actually engaged with SSL varied substantially, including who made use of SSL, how they made use of it, the size and focus of SSL groups, how these groups functioned, and what individuals sought to get out of them. Some students found SSL helped them to be more efficient and focused in their studying, while others benefited from comparing their knowledge and skills with those of their peers. Not everyone benefited, as some students found SSL stressful, unproductive, or socially uncomfortable. While student engagement in SSL was an enabler of academic success for some it could also be an indicator of social isolation and low self-esteem for others. Insights: Understanding how SSL can influence student experiences has the potential to inform students how and why they might engage in SSL, and it can help educators better support their students, particularly in those schools that actively encourage SSL.


Social studying; medical education; small group learning; social learning

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