Setting the Stage for Active Learning: Q&A with Jesse Moore, M.D.

September 7, 2018 by Erin Post

As the new director of active learning at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, Jesse Moore, M.D., associate professor of surgery, leads the effort to transition the Vermont Integrated Curriculum away from lectures and towards evidence-based active learning methods that show better retention and increased engagement. Along with a team of four instructional designers and a project manager, Moore is setting up the infrastructure to help faculty make the transition, and is guiding the process from start to finish.

LCoM: The College has committed to a curriculum that is 100 percent active learning by August of 2019. Where is the College in the process of making that transition?
JM: In the first two years of the curriculum, the percentage of each course that has transitioned to 100 percent active learning varies. We have one course that is already 100 percent active learning. Others completed the transition in August of 2018, and there are some that will complete the transition in August of 2019. Our current average across the first two years of the curriculum is 67 percent active learning. In the clerkship year we also have a range. Dr. Kathleen MacDonald just converted the anesthesiology bridge week to 100 percent active learning.

LCoM: Who is on the College’s active learning team? What staffing and institutional commitment does it take to make the shift to 100 percent active learning?
JM: I devote 40 percent of my time to my role as director of active learning. Dr. Mitchell Norotsky, chair of the Department of Surgery, has been very supportive of me in this new role. Cara Simone, M.A., our active learning project manager, brings over 20 years of educational and administrative experience to the team. There are four instructional designers whose main focus is on supporting faculty in the transition. Although it’s a significant shift for the College, faculty have stepped up to the challenge and are enthusiastic about the work ahead.

LCoM: How is the College measuring outcomes? How do we know what we’re doing is working?
JM: We are very focused on outcomes. We have not changed the courses, sequence, or assessment methods, which means we can compare student’s performance on quizzes and exams from year to year. We monitor for changes in USMLE Step 1 scores as well. Student input and satisfaction are vitally important. We know that student preparation is key to the success of active learning, but we need to be very careful about how much we are expecting from them each night and each week. Our course evaluations include questions related to the delivery of the curriculum in the classroom as well as the density of instruction each week and in a course.

LCoM: Why are you and your team excited about active learning? How does this approach help advance medical education?
JM: There is ample evidence that students learn better with active learning modalities compared to traditional lecture. Much of this evidence comes from undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics literature, so we have a real opportunity to be innovators within medical education and to study and publish our outcomes. Most of us can remember those moments in our education when we were grappling with ideas, often with colleagues, and had a concept suddenly “click.” Active learning does a much better job of fostering those moments in the classroom. As an educator it is much more rewarding to be in a class that is making connections compared to one in which people are struggling to remain focused and engaged. Additionally, research has shown that as compared to lecture, active learning more effectively closes the achievement gap experienced by groups underrepresented in science, technology, and medicine. Our diverse student body will benefit from the shift we’re making in our teaching methods. 

(This article originally appeared in the 2018 "Art & Science," the Larner College of Medicine Medical Student Education Report.)