Context Authentic early experience (AEE) describes experiences provided to new medical students to undertake ‘human contact’ to enhance learning. Although the concept of AEE is not new, and was commonplace prior to the Flexner Report of 1910, little is known about how or why meaning and knowledge are constructed through early student placements in medical, social and voluntary workplaces. Variance among settings means AEE is a collection of non-uniform, complex educational interventions which require students to make repeated transitions between different workplaces and their university institution. The purpose of this paper is to develop theory in this context.
Methods We report on a study undertaken in a UK medical school using interviews and discussion groups to generate data from students, workplace supervisors and school faculty staff. We used narrative analysis to access knowledge and meaning construction, in combination with analytic tools drawn from thematic and interpretative approaches to phenomena. We sought to refine theoretical understanding through the application of mētis, a socio-cultural theory novel to the field of medical education.
Results Scott’s concept of mētis provides a useful theoretical framework for understanding how AEE works for students in terms of their creation of meaning and how they choose to use it in relation to formally recognised knowledge. Knowledge and meaning, generated as a consequence of AEE, contained dichotomies and paradoxes. Students improvised, in the face of unpredictability and uncertainty, to create a form of mētis that allowed them to handle the perceived competing demands of AEE settings and the medical school.
Discussion We demonstrate how meaning making can be conceived of as student mētis arising from social processes in students’ learning interactions. We suggest that the development of collaborative working with students could potentiate positive forms of student mētis, thereby maximising desirable educational consequences. Further work is required to establish effective ways to do this.