gms | German Medical Science

14. Grazer Konferenz – Qualität der Lehre: New Horizons in Teaching and Learning

22. - 24.04.2010, Wien, Österreich

Using problems to achieve transfer of learning


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  • corresponding author presenting/speaker Geoff Norman - McMaster University, Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

14. Grazer Konferenz – Qualität der Lehre: New Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Wien, Österreich, 22.-24.04.2010. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2010. Doc10grako2

doi: 10.3205/10grako02, urn:nbn:de:0183-10grako027

Published: November 18, 2010

© 2010 Norman.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


Medical students typically spend half their undergraduate career mastering concepts in the basic sciences. The unstated assumption is that these concepts will be useful to them in understanding clinical problems. That is, it is the hope of teacher and learner that, when a senior student encounters a clinical problem, he will be able to recall the relevant basic science mechanisms. Many anecdotes from both teachers and students suggest this is not the case; teachers speak of students who "know the facts but can't problem-solve" and students report having to relearn basic science when they reach the clinical years.

The process of recalling relevant concepts to solve new problems is called "transfer" by cognitive psychologists. An extensive literature has shown that, consistent with the examples above, transfer is notoriously difficult - typically 10-30 of students who have learned a solution will be able to recall it when confronted with a new problem. However, research has also identified some strategies that can dramatically improve transfer, primarily related to deliberate practice with multiple examples. In this workshop I will review the evidence about transfer, and describe some recent research in medical education that points to teaching strategies to improve transfer. The OSCE is a resource-intense innovation in assessing skills from the seventies. The German speaking community is finally adopting it: different OSCE´s have been developed over the last five years all over Germany. The medical faculty of the University of Munich comes a long way: The first economy-style OSCE was implemented in 1998 enabling one examiner to take care of four examinees simultaneously. Nowadays, we do two students per examiner. The workshop participants will be asked to develop an OSCE-parcours that meets their needs and can learn from the Munich experiences.