Study and Learning

Learning menu.

Conceptual Approaches

Conceptual approaches to learning may fit the different ways students can function in various settings. These approaches include:

  • Learning through experience

  • Learning through abstract conceptualization by developing strategies and theories

  • Learning through active experimentation

  • Learning through reflective observation

These approaches can be synthesized into four types of learner:

  • Convergers: rely on deduction to solve problems

  • Divergers: use creative problem solving and view a problem from many perspectives before acting

  • Assimilators: employ an inductive approach with schemes and algorithms to organize problem solving

  • Hands-on: want to obtain experience as a way of learning

For diagnostic success with typical problem scenarios in the learning process, students who employ the assimilator strategy, using a scheme-inductive reasoning process or pattern recognition, do best at arriving at the correct diagnosis. In practice, not everyone functions the same, and not all clinical scenarios are equivalent. For example, a "hands-on" approach to learning how to stabilize patients in shock may be the best approach in the emergency room. Creative problem solving may be necessary in research settings.

Approaches to work

Surface disorganized:

Students feel overwhelmed by work. They are unsure what is needed to complete a task. They find it difficult to organize their time effectively. Their study methods, such as reading, do not yield real understanding.

Surface rational:

Students have preference for order, detail, and routine. Students want to know precisely what is expected. They put considerable effort into memorizing important facts when learning something new.

Deep approach:

Students employ an integrative approach that leads to personal understanding. Students try to relate new ideas to actual situations where they might apply.


Previous academic performance accounts for just 23% of the variance in performance in undergraduate medical training (medical school) and only 6% of the variance in postgraduate competency.


Coderre S, Mandin H, Harasym PH, Fick GH. Diagnostic reasoning strategies and diagnostic success. Med Educ. 2003;37(8):695-703.

Ferguson E, James D, Madeley L. Factors associated with success in medical school: systematic review of the literature. BMJ. 2002;324(7343):952-7.

McManus IC, Keeling A, Paice E. Stress, burnout and doctors' attitudes to work are determined by personality and learning style: A twelve year longitudinal study of UK medical graduates. BMC Medicine. 2004, 2:29 doi:10.1186/1741-7015-2-29.

Learning menu. Next topic