Background Adult learning theory suggests that learning is most effective when related to need, when driven by the learner and when it is flexible. We describe the effect of an educational intervention that was driven by student need, and largely designed by students.
Methods We undertook a needs assessment of fifth year medical students' study needs. Based on this, we helped them design a course to meet these needs. This was predominantly related to study skills and a practice objective structured clinical examination (OSCE). We evaluated the course by asking for student opinion and by measuring the effect on student performance in a high stakes medical school examination (written examination and OSCE).
Findings Despite the course being run voluntarily and in after-hours sessions, 80–90% of the medical student class attended each session. Student performance on the end of year examinations was significantly enhanced in the year of the intervention, compared with previous years and with students from other schools sitting identical examinations in the same year.
Interpretation Learning activities that are directly based on student needs, that focus on study and examination techniques, and that are largely student-driven, result in effective and valuable outcomes.