Explorative studies: modelling medical education

Continuing our series on the the research compass, explorative studies are an important first step in understanding educational practice. The aim of these studies is modelling. These studies focus on identifying, describing and analyzing  characteristics and mechanisms of phenomena, behaviours, interventions, measurement instruments etc.

In order to establish best practice, it is always important to understand in depth what exactly is going on: we have all had the experience of consultants dropping in, surveying or interviewing, and then presenting conclusions and recommendations that “make no sense” to those of us on the ground. If we are to advance our discipline, those of us “in the swamp” of GP medical education need to observe, describe and report our educational processes and models. 

However, while in the past, pure descriptive studies outlining an educational intervention or strategy were commonly published in the literature, now, these studies are rarely rigorous enough, or generalisable enough to be selected for publication. We tend to only hear about descriptive work in conferences and grey literature, which unfortunately means most of us never hear about them at all.

Clever approaches to communicating research findings include social media, online publication through websites or blogs, or communicating implementation strategies, by circulating “tools of the trade”. Without this form of research translation, we will keep re-inventing wheels, and wasting resources. There is an ethic around research sustainability: any individual project should contribute to the broader ecosystem. Otherwise, it’s like growing a rare rainforest species in your backyard: it doesn’t contribute to sustainability at all,

There are three broad methodologies used in these types of studies:

Descriptive studies

eg action research, case studies or descriptions of assessment formats, instructional methods, evaluation strategies. These studies are the equivalent of epidemiology in clinical work: they help us understand the current “state of play”

Psychometric studies

These studies are often forgotten. They deal with measurement and measurement instruments, particularly on the development of valid and reliable tools for assessment or future research.

Qualitative studies

Qualitative studies explore social phenomena in natural settings by giving emphasis to the meanings, experiences and views of participants. They are often used as a preliminary to quantitative studies, or to explore complex phenomena not amenable to quantitative studies, or to supplement quantitative data. A summary of common qualitative methods, and further reading, is available on the research week site at  www.researchweek.com.au . The page looks like this:

 qualitative research page
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