• experiential learning;
  • undergraduate medical education;
  • knowledge and attitudes;
  • geriatrics

Canada's aging population, fewer medical students training in geriatric medicine, and inadequate geriatric curricula require that medical schools immediately address how future physicians will be able to care for older people effectively. The medical literature suggests that experiential learning strategies improve undergraduate medical students' knowledge of and interest in less-popular subjects, but the durability of improvements resulting from these resource-intensive learning approaches remains unclear.

In October 2001, a convenience sample of all University of Western Ontario medical students attending the geriatric component of their first year was randomized to attend one 3-hour didactic lecture or 3-hour experiential learning session. Approximately 1 year later, students completed a follow-up knowledge and attitudes survey that was matched to their first-year surveys using date-of-birth data.

Of 100 completed follow-up surveys, 42 were used in formal analysis. Although initially the experiential group demonstrated a better knowledge score, at 1-year follow-up, there was no significant difference in knowledge, attitudes toward older people, or interest in geriatric medicine between the didactic (n=17) and experiential (n=25) groups. Nevertheless, these students (n=42) demonstrated better attitude scores than those (n=22) who had not attended either educational intervention.

This study challenges the belief that an experiential approach is a superior training method to a didactic approach. One year after an educational intervention, there was no difference in geriatric knowledge, attitude scores, or interest in geriatric medicine between students who underwent a didactic lecture or a participatory, experiential learning session.