Microlearning during the pandemic

How to become a hospitalist


The vast amounts of information generated this past year related to the COVID-19 pandemic was a feat of wonder – recommendations and guidelines on the hospital level and on the national level came in a flurry, more often overwhelming and confusing than clarifying for the frontline provider. In addition, “routine” hospital care for non-infected patients and improvement processes had to continue as we all dealt with the whirlwind of increasing COVID cases, torrents of new guidelines, and educating our trainees.

Dr. Jose R. Mercado

Thus, the individual-level question: how does a clinician stay engaged and distill the relentless stream of new information?

In Spring 2020, when the first patients with COVID were admitted, our hospital medicine section was tasked to create a surge plan. This included organizing, orienting, and educating off-service providers on how to become hospitalists. Undoubtedly, the call to arms for our center was heard, and many responded. However, backgrounds were diverse in specialty – clinicians and trainees from psychiatry, general surgery, and various fellowships all answered. It was an exhausting and inefficient effort to produce the material, hold webinars, and schedule training, especially for those who were more removed from a hospital medicine experience. We knew we had to come up with an alternative plan moving forward.

Thus, the systems-level question: how does a health care system educate its clinicians, or any other health care providers, when reallocation of their talents and skills is both necessary, time-sensitive, and occuring during a period where new information is constantly being produced and changing?

To reach the most clinicians as possible, with the most succinct and distilled information, we had to come up with a method to do so. Ultimately, in considering the situation at hand, we had to understand who we were as the provider of the information, and who the recipient would be. We would like to share the initiatives and processes by which we constructed our solution to the two questions – microlearning through hospital podcasting.

Learning from our health care colleagues

With the initial webinars and training sessions for our staff, we assessed our learners’ motivations and background in managing in a hospital medicine capacity. Overall, we discovered that our trainees and clinicians have an innate drive to learn; all of them recognized the importance of keeping up with evidence-based information. However, the difficulty highlighted was the individual time available to dedicate to acquiring new information and awareness of new information being available to the health care sector during the chaotic times of the pandemic.

From our section’s perspective, we had a difficulty with coordinating among multiple professional development groups within our hospital, cost, and resources to execute training. These difficulties between providing knowledge and receiving knowledge have already been expertly analyzed.1

Parallel to this, the pedagogic paradigm shifts as we progress through our careers – the methods and skills we used in school contrast in many ways with those we use on a daily basis when it comes to learning. Instead of dedicating hours at a time to new challenges in our workflow or our interests, we watch videos, search retailers for product solutions, check our email correspondence, and peruse social media accounts several times a day. Information comes at us very quickly, but in small pieces.

One such innovation in pedagogy is the practice of microlearning. This refers to the use of small lesson modules and short-term activities intended to teach and reinforce concepts.2 It is the opposite of “macrolearning,” which is the principle of dedicating reading material, structured coursework, and traditional knowledge evaluation in the form of exams to reinforce learning. Certainly, microlearning has other names as well – “just-in-time,” “just-enough,” and “micro-courses” are a few synonyms seen in the current literature. Though a highly relevant concept for our situation, translating it to an endproduct for our trainees and clinicians required more thought.


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