Objective To describe the effects of a voluntary intervention using reflective learning techniques on students' learning.
Design An interventional study with reflective learning techniques offered to medical students.
Setting Year 3 of undergraduate medicine at Cardiff University where the curriculum is integrated with early clinical contact.
Participants All 232 Year 3 students were invited to participate. A total of 65 attended an introductory lecture. After the lecture 35 students agreed to take part; 15 of these subsequently dropped out (some before attending tutorial groups, others after taking part for some weeks).
Interventions Participants kept learning journals for 2 terms and attended fortnightly, facilitated tutorial groups where they discussed their reflective journal entries. Main outcome measures were qualitative interviews and examination results.
Results Interviews were carried out with 19 full participants, 4 initial participants and 7 non-participants. Participants perceived that they gained a greater ability to identify learning objectives and to integrate learning. The tutorial groups encouraged students to compare progress with their peers. Some students did not take part because they thought that the large factual content of the curriculum would make reflective learning less useful. There were no differences between the groups in examination results.
Conclusions Students among the small, self-selected group of participants were better able to identify what they needed to learn although there was no improvement in examination results. Students appear unlikely to take up voluntary reflective learning if they do not think it relates to the curriculum and assessments. Student culture exerts a potent effect on willingness to attend extra tutorial groups.