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Why engage?

learning theory for starters


How we learn and what we mean by learning has been the subject of intense scrutiny by psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, scientists and not to forget teachers for a very long time. This has created a rich and varied landscape to explore. But perhaps a daunting one for those just starting out.

If we embark on understanding how people learn, we are doing the lions share of the work of figuring out how to teach.

But this is not a “one size fits all” endeavour. There are numerous theories and toolkits to use and the dynamic teacher will not stick to one but will explore and continually adapt their approach depending on the situation, setting and learner(s) in front of them.


What does “learning” mean to you?


Consider the last teaching session you delivered, or the last session you were a learner in. What did you intend your learners to learn? what did you learn? 


Now think beyond “formal” or designated teaching activities. What was the last thing you really learnt about? what does that learning mean to you?


No single answer


Delving into your experiences you may well have come up with a whole variety of things you have learnt, or come to understand, or “know”. From telling the time, to how to order a meal at a restaurant, to making bread or understanding human factors in an emergency setting.

What about the things “you know” with other people, do they hold some parts of your understanding? Is there any shared knowledge that you don’t retain personally. Think about when you regularly depend on others in the work you do. You might know that Yas in radiology can always get you a scan on a Tuesday and that Dean will help you organise bloods for your patient in outpatients.

Learning >

The examples above describe the spectrum of complexity that human learning occupies. From the simple learning of a process that we use daily such as telling the time, to the complex social learning we do in order to carry out our jobs and the rest of our lives.

Some, have attempted to describe learning in terms of the individual mind, the synaptic connections and processes of learning facts and tasks falling into the “cognitivist” camp.

on >

The cognitivists and neuroscientists have given us the tools that are useful for thinking about the nitty gritty of teaching such as cognitive load theory.

The “constructivist” position suggests that we learn by building on our existing knowledge and understanding. If you think about learning a skill like talking to a patient…we don’t start afresh each time we learn an additional useful tool, we add it together with the rest of what we “know” to form a “new” whole. Understanding constructivism helps us to see why we need to activate our learners existing knowledge to help them learn.


We all know what it feels like to be told something we already know, it can be frustrating and demoralising. The teacher who asks us what we know first and engages us in a conversation to build our understanding will be much more likely to help us learn than the one who stands and lectures us without engaging our prior understanding.

The constructivists also suggest that we build our understanding in the context of our social settings and interactions. This leads us to the social learning theorists, those who have the most to say about how and why we might plan to maximise interactivity when we teach.




Think back to that most recent teaching session, did it trigger any memories for you? How do you remember it in the context of the people you were with and the place?






Social learning


A lot of recent teaching theorists have sought to explore learning as a social endeavour. 

Consider yourself out of a classroom or teaching setting. If you don’t understand something, what do you do? you go to your peer or your parent or friend and you ask them to explain it. When you learnt to ride a bike, you watched your friends, your siblings. Think back to the first time you realised you were wrong about something. How did that come about? Even so called auto-didacts (self learners) are not learning from themselves. They use resources (books, web pages, articles) written by others. 


Now think about the last time you had a heated discussion about something. That memory is strong isn’t it? because you were challenged, you were asked to review what you know or understand in the context of your peers or colleagues.

There are many key social learning theories to explore to support us to get the most out of our learning designs.



Key ideas – A toolkit


There are some key ideas that you can use to make your teaching more engaging and ultimately more productive


The zone


The zone of proximal development was popularised by Lev Vygotsky a Russian social learning theorist and academic. It describes the learning that occurs when challenge is optimised and often the support of a culturally or socially sympathetic near peer. 

Future learn- ZPD


The ZPD might be applied in a number of ways…



Activating existing experiences is not only a fundamental way to understand your learners needs, its also a great way to engage people. 

The question is the simplest unite of a teaching session. When was the last time you considered what a good question was…? what about an ACTIVATING one?! 


No matter how introverted or extroverted we might consider ourselves we are all constantly moving around a multitude of communities. The groups of people we share common values, goals and aims with. Growth often comes from the support of communities. You might consider asking your learners to share and discuss key experiences and think about how they might do this within other communities they operate in.





Why not contribute?

Do you fancy exploring a key aspect of healthcare learning or pedagogy? Get in touch!

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Choosing the right tools

>>> Evaluating 1

Let us consider ourselves learners too. We have started to build our teaching practice and have an idea of what we are hoping to achieve. But how do we know if we have achieved it and how? Did anyone learn anything? Have we changed anything? Do we need to change?   

It is tempting to ask learners if they enjoyed sessions and found them useful but does that tell us if what we taught led to any learning?



Who, what, when, where, why and how? 

There may be many factors that influence how you evaluate your teaching. There is a reason why surveys are commonly used, because they are cheap, easy and quick to administer. If this is something you would like to do then read on for tips to think about this. 

The simplest way to learn about how a session went is to ask the learners. You might reserve a bit of time at the end of a session to talk to them about what they learnt or ask them to talk to each other.

Another easy to administer evaluation tool is peer observation. But it’s important to consider first what you would like them to observe.

write down as many things as you can think of that you might ask someone to observe in your teaching session.


You might consider yourself, your relationship with the learners, the learners interactions, the environment…



Surveys: Likert or not?

Constructing a survey is a quick and cheap way to get responses from a variety of people. But it isn’t necessarily easy. 

Likert scales of agreement are a frequently used tool but how much can they really tell us?

Consider this question:

Consider these situations;

  1. everyone responds with 5’s (all strongly disagree)
  2. mostly 3’s (neutral)
  3. mostly 1’s (strongly agrees)

What next? so you follow this question up with:

What (if anything) did you find useful about this session?

Did you really need the first question?


Tailor made

One size will never fit all when it comes to evaluation. You may want to adapt and tailor your evaluation towards what you need and want to know.

Common pitfalls

Drafting questions for learners and observers

Lack of clarity

“which techniques in these sessions today were the most useful?”


“what did you think of the techniques used in session one?”

Double questions

“how did you find the session and what was most useful about it?”


Leading questions

“What did you think was good about this session?”


“what did you think of this session overall?”


yes/no and closed questions

“Were any of the sessions enjoyable?”


” tell us one thing you learnt at the session today (if anything)”

Chose the right tool

Where, who, and why will affect what kind of evaluation you undertake

Consider your questions

Careful wording of your questions will be essential for getting the most from your evaluation

Trial your evaluation

Take the time to trial any questions before you roll them out in a survey, observation form or interviews

Reflect and record

Ensure you make space to reflect and record your observations




It is common for new and experienced educators to use confidence and competence as a marker of learning. The following articles were written to help you consider this topic


Evaluation and “feedback”

Getting “feedback” from learners (as part of evaluating our practice) is often embarked on as an afterthought. It can be difficult, particularly when starting out, to know what to ask and how. Beyond seeking feedback from learners, there are several other ways of gaining an understanding of what “went well” or we might “do differently”.

Take a moment to think about the different ways we might understand how a teaching session went. Do you have anyone you can discuss this with? 

What’s the plan?

Before embarking on teaching we make a plan and part of the plan is knowing what we want our learners to learn.

We should also consider how this learning will impact them and their future activities.

Why do we want feedback and to evaluate our teaching? consider everyone you might want to share what you learn with.


“Why do we want feedback and to evaluate of our teaching?”

Great evaluation is multi-dimensional

You have probably identified by now that there are multiple reasons why we might evaluate our teaching and a variety of audiences for this information. To gain the broadest understanding of how to develop we might use a variety of tools with a range of people.


know the “who, what, when, where, why” of your evaluation plan


The Who

  • Don’t forget yourself!: understanding how to develop your session(s)
  • your learner(s): did they learn what you wanted them to? how? do you need to adapt or change the session? Did they change as a result of your learning, did they do anything differently?
  • A supervisor or lead team: do they want to know if the project is successful, do you want to secure future support?
  • A wider audience? don’t forget about the potential to share your project more widely. Can others learn from what you’ve learnt?

Asking the right questions

Language is key

Whether you decide on peer observation, learner surveys, informal or formal interviews or any other method what questions you ask is vital. 

Refer back to the who, what, when, where, how. Evaluating learning part 2 considers the practical aspect of construction.


A matter of philosophy

How we choose to measure teaching and learning is possibly one of the most important decisions we will make. 

Many healthcare teachers starting out will approach evaluation of their teaching with their scientific hat on. They would feel most comfortable to measure everyone on a scale and then conduct some statistical analysis. This is based on the idea that there is one “truth” to be discovered and that we will gain the most from being objective. This is often referred to as a “positivist” approach.

Now consider a teaching session. Will everyone experience it the same way? Will it have the same outcomes and effects on one learner as another? Do you want it to?



Next steps…


Dreaming about f3

Are you hoping to have some time out beyond foundation years? Here’s some useful resources




plan my f3

a twitter resource

A useful link for opportunities around the UK



Useful resources

Medic footprints

A career guide for getting into MedEd


Click to go to MF


NHS Jobs.


Find a clinical fellowship



BMC Med ed

A journal with best evidence for medical education including literature around careers


Your idea here

My idea there

our ideas everywhere

covid can’t last forever

work is not just for chritmas its for life

don’t forget your towel

  • Done a clinical fellowship in med Ed?
  • Done a PG Cert?
  • Got a job doing something education related?
  • Write for us!

What about you?

Do you have an experience or story to tell us?



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Planning a local project

Planning can make all the difference between a project being a drag and being really effective

SO you’ve got a burning idea…you’ve noticed that there is a gaping hole in your local service for teaching X. You think you’ve got a brilliant idea to plug that gap. But hang on a minute, have you thought about:


  1. what will happen when you leave?
  2. who’s going to do all that boring admin?
  3. How will we know if it’s all worth it?

Asking ourselves these questions will help ensure we set up a project so it won’t drain our own resources and it’s not just a “flash” in the pan.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with doing a project for a defined period of time, the success you and your team will get from that will be immeasurable, but do make sure you know what you are setting out to do.

The WBYHT team have created a starting guide to thinking about your project here.

Be a compassionate leader

Planning for success is all about being compassionate to ourselves and our communities. It’s about recognising what is achievable and not pushing ourselves into stress or difficulty.

Get it together

Plan your beginning, middle and end.

Beginning- what’s your vision?, who, what, when, where, why?

Middle – HOW – resources? people? what are your objectives. 

End- what have we learnt? what will we share? will this continue? how?



Miro- a planning app for your team

Define your vision

Understand the need


know your destination

Get support

Whatever you are planning make sure you talk to as many people as you can about it. Get a variety of perspectives and an understanding of what you want to achieve




look around

Look around at what’s been done before, either in the literature or locally. 

Understanding the methods of what you are trying to achieve can be key to setting up a robust programme.

Medical teacher journal

learn from it

Evaluating our teaching has many uses. We can understand our learners better, ourselves and our practice as well as share learning more broadly with stakeholders and the wider educational team.



abc of evaluation

There are many elements of a programme that you can choose to evaluate and each one will have its own approach and things to think about. An example of a varied menu of project evaluation is given below:


learner experience


learner outcomes


your reflection


peer review



Planning a “one-off” teaching session

what’s brought you here?

Why plan?

If you know what you’re talking about, you don’t need to plan right?  Well…think about it, the world is full of brilliant people who “know” a lot, but fail to teach well.

Why is that?

Teaching is a skill


It takes more than just knowing, we need to understand and build experience in how people learn. We need to be able to translate, design, communicate, plan and reflect. 

 Learners need master crafts people who care about them and have the motivation to plan effective sessions and reflect on how they might make them better…



Where to start? 

Planning out a session can give you the confidence to deliver something of quality. But where to start? 

The tips below will help you to begin to think about planning evidenced based, best practice teaching.



An easy and important place to start is with the WHO. Who are the learners you would like to teach? The more you know about them and what they need to learn, the more you will be able to make an effective plan.

For example: you have been asked to teach Basic Life Support…how you will do this will very much depend on whether they are, for example:

1) 5-year olds

2) third year nursing students

3) the care staff of a nursing home.

This question is a great example of how the theory of constructivism plays out.


The educational setting is often forgotten when planning teaching. Make it part of your plan to consider these key issues:

How will I choose and set up the space (real or virtual) to support how I want to interact with the learners (and the learners with each other)?

What impact will this setting have on the learners? For instance, if it’s in A&E will they be able to concentrate? If its in the educational centre, how can I make it authentic? If its online, how can I minimise distractions?

The “what”…objectives

Objectives describe the finer details of “what” learning we want our teaching sessions to deliver. It is essential to be clear to ourselves about the objectives of our session. What do we really want our learners to learn?

There are many tools out there to help you think about this. Learning taxonomies have been used by teachers for decades to think about what kind of learning they want to achieve.




The WBYHT teaching plan

Teaching plan template

This basic template was created to help you consider your lessons and plan for learning

The how…

Luckily, there is a lot out there to help us with “the how” of delivering learning  

Online teaching

There are loads of tools to help us deliver learning online and many of them are free or have free versions. In the tech blog, Nate describes some tips from his ammo box

one-off tech

Maximising interactivity

You will likely have experienced recently what it feels like to be in a lecture where you haven’t been engaged. The person leading the session hasn’t interacted with you in anyway and you’re starting to zone out and look at your phone…

interactive theory

Social learning

At the frontier of learning theory are the social learning theories such as Engstroms activity theory, communities of practice and transformational learning

social learning


The “affective” /feeling domain is really important to me when I plan lessons. I want people to connect with each other and what’s being taught




I want to ensure maximum interactivity. I need to plan what I want them to learn and how best to do it interactively




It occurred to me today that the language we use around teaching and learning in medical education or “health professions education” is really lacking in spirit. 

The term “pedagogy” is one I have circled as a learner myself, hoping to understand this illusive concept. I like that it tries to capture something of the intention of teaching, the philosophy and politics as well as the practice. So why not “medagogy”?  

““Pedagogy is more than the accumulation of strategies…it is formed by a view of mind, of learning and learners and the kinds of knowledge and outcomes valued” The Power of Pedagogy- Leach and Moon”

Mim LEach


an example

Royal Local Hospital, ICU 




The Intensive care unit at RLH is renowned for recruiting foundation doctors into anaesthetics and critical care. But why? The unit is fairly unremarkable looking, the staff room has a nice view, the nurses are pleasant and the consultants too but is that enough? The actual answer lies in their medagogy, how they enact their “community of practice” (CoP).

From day one everyone is a valued and respected team member with the potential to learn whatever they want. The FY1 is treated with the same potential as an ACCS trainee already on the program. Nurses are supported equally to gain skills like doing arterial lines and everyone is a key member of a constant process of improving the unit. Above all else they prioritise education, seeing it as an integral part of  the days work, not as an add on, or something to eat your sandwiches to. The ICU at RLH has clear medagogical intentions.

Get to know yourself… what are your medagogical intentions?

Teaching should build a learners self esteem

This is my number one, central doctrine for teaching, the one I would hope to impart on anyone embarking on a teaching path.

  1. Set out to build your learners self-esteem
  2.  Know your theory from your methods
  3. Get to know your learner, what do they need to learn?
  4. plan- how are you going to establish the best way to teach for your learners to learn
  5. reflect, reflect, reflect- what went well? what didn’t work?

  • know yourself (clean your “johari’s window” regularly)
  • Get to know your learner (what do they care about, what do they need?)
  • Get to know your community (who else will be supporting this learner/s?)
  • Get your own support (who’s helping you clean your johari’s window?)

What about you?

So what is your medagogy?

What kind of a teacher do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish by teaching? where have you come from (philosophically, geographically, culturally)? where do you want to get to?


Heading Level 4

Teaching online is spreading like…well lets just say if it had an R number it would be high. Like all teaching it’s important to carefully consider your aims and methodology. Nate dives into some top tech tips for you here.

“A blockquote highlights important information, which may or may not be an actual quote. It uses distinct styling to set it apart from other content on the page.”

Nate Betteridge

WBYHT tech team


Webinar teaching tips


John Dewey, an American philosopher and education reformer once said “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”  Apart from being able to verbalise something much better than I ever could John Dewey highlights a significant point – one which is key to effective online teaching.

Interaction is and should be the cornerstone of online education. It is not good enough simply to share our screen and talk through our presentation. Evidence suggests that we have a MAXIMUM of ten minutes of attention with students/trainees online compared with the ‘normal’ twenty minutes face to face [ref]. What’s even more startling is how rapidly that attention time drops without engagement or interaction.



Think about it – how many times will you look at your phone, or glance out of the window when you are in a room with a facilitator stood in front of you? Now imagine yourself sat in front of a computer, in the comfort of your own home where you can turn off the camera and mute your microphone (always remember to mute your microphone). No one is monitoring you – How long do you think you could continue to listen to a webinar where the person is reading off their slides before the temptation to check that latest notification on your phone? I know it certainly would be less than ten minutes for me.

The challenge that comes with transferring teaching to an online platform is continually thinking about how do I engage my learner? This not only allows us to ensure they are still with us but helps to know if the pace you are going is the correct one. The normal feedback mechanisms of reading the room are gone (facial expressions, questions and general engagement), therefore we have to adapt to a new setting.

Tips and tricks

So how do we keep online learning interactive? How do we give the trainees something to do? As John Dewey describes in doing we demand thinking which results in learning

Chat functionality

This is a basic but useful tool. Encouraging questions and then monitoring what comes up is really helpful in allowing real time discussion with the learner.

It assures them that you are interacting and dealing with some of their agendas and not just forcing your own upon them. Even better is when other learners start interacting and answering questions. It isn’t always the most inclusive method however and you may find the same people using this function/answering the questions.


A helpful way of getting a straw poll about a topic. This can often lead to greater participation as often the poll is anonymous. This will help those more shy learners to start interacting with the group and engage with a question. Polls can help to gain information about how many people feel comfortable with a topic or they can be used to check understanding or the speed of your session.

Hands up/request to speak

A number of online platforms have this functionality which allows for real time, ‘face to face’ discussion or questions. It can be really useful as it breaks up the presenter from speaking all the time – plus it reflects the style of more classroom based teaching. The challenge with this is similar to the chat functionality as it may favour the learner who is more confident and willing to articulate their learning. It also is more time consuming and difficult to speak with every learner (depending on group size).

Padlet / collaborative whiteboards

These are a great tool for encouraging learning together. Padlet.com is a free online whiteboard tool that allows anyone with the link to double click and add their own ideas to it. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t require people to sign up to it before collaborating. The free version you can sign up to has a limit on the number of boards you can use but still gives you enough in my opinion. There are other collaborative whiteboards and tools available e.g. Miro, Trello – but often require users to create a username first. These are a great way for keeping your sessions interactive as it allows for discussion, participation and idea generation in a real time online environment.


 I love a Kahoot quiz! This website allows you to create a quiz that’s fun and colourful and can be run remotely with people logging in via their phones or computers. This can be used really well maybe as an icebreaker or at the end of a session to assess learning. Gamification of learning is a really powerful tool and Kahoot does this in a really non-threatening and enjoyable way.




Check out padlet for yourself







Check out Kahoot…



One final thing to say is it’s always worth thinking how does this interactivity help achieve the learning objectives? Interactivity for the sake of it is not advisable either – the sweet spot is using a tool that demands the learner to think about the objective and the learning will occur naturally.



Have you put Nates suggestions into action?

Tell us about it!