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FOAM, Learning Styles and You

FOAM, Learning Styles and You

There is much debate in the education world about “learning styles”. That debate is beyond the scope of the post but it is an interesting one. To learn more read this article. For now, we will assume that individuals do learn more efficiently when information is presented in a certain way but that certain way may change depending on the type of information, the context and the level of understanding expected.

There are a variety of learning style models and associated quizzes to help learners evaluate their preferences. Since I am a fan of free, I took this online learning styles inventory quiz. I recognize that it may not be the most evidence-based but it is a starting point. The possible learning styles explored are:

  • visual
  • aural
  • verbal
  • physical
  • logical
  • social
  • solitary

FOAM and Learning

FOAM delivers information in a variety of ways that cross-covers many learning styles. In this post I will review the FOAM resources that are associated with different learning styles with the hope that learners might reflect on the way that they learn and find some FOAM that works for them. Keep in mind that “matching” a learner’s style to a particular method of teaching for everything is probably not a good idea but thinking about whether a particular resource is the right one for you and the type material being delivered seems worthwhile.


Learning Style* Description FOAM Resource Example
Visual Prefer using images, pictures and maps to organize information. The Calgary Guide This guide presents approaches to common conditions and explains medical information using very visually pleasing concept maps.Videocasts are also a good option because they often present information in a visually pleasing way! You come off a busy ED shift. You saw a trauma patient in hypovolemic shock and want to learn more about the condition. Check out the chart.You also check out FlippedEMclassroom’s video on approach to shock.
Aural Like to work with sounds and music. Might like to use rhymes and sound in learning. ZDoggMDmusical parodies and raps on a variety of medical topics. Though they might not be a full review they could help aural learners recall information. After a day full of seeing hypertensive patients you worry that you might never keep it all straight. Tune into this rap.You could try making a mnemonic into a rap or jingle too.
Verbal Involves both the written and spoken word. Easy to express in writing and words. Blogs– writing and reading blogs may satisfy your appeal for the written word. The link provides a list to many of the EM blogs out there. Podcasts- you may find that podcasts are an efficient way for you to learn information. There are more podcasts available then I can list! You want to learn more about pulmonary embolisms so you tune into EMBasic’s awesome podcast on the topic and read the article about PE on Life in the Fast Lane.
Physical Like to use your body and sense of touch to learn. You prefer to jump in and get your hands dirty. To be honest, this is a bit hard in the online world but there is some neat simulation software available. Ditch the computer and use a tablet or iPhone (more hands on) and download some sim software.ECG Rhythm and Monitor Simulator (&12.99): has pre-set scenarios and also allows others to control what you see on your screen.ALSi (free): also allows iPad-iPad pairing for remote contro You were involved in a resuscitation today. You want to learn more about resuscitation so you grab a friend and run through some simulations on your iPad.
Logical Like logical and mathematical reasoning. Might classify and group information to help you understand it. Creating a system to help you classify information might be worthwhile.Since there is so much FOAM you might find it overwhelming so you could try using a note taking software like Evernote to organize what you learn. The act of filtering and organizing information might improve your learning. One day you are involved in the care of a patient with anaphylaxis but you want to learn more to solidify your approach. You make an Evernote note on “anaphylaxis” and include resources that you have acquired information from.You will continue to add to this note as your understanding evolves
Social Communicate with people,  enjoy learning in groups and bouncing ideas off of people. Join Twitter!

Comment on blogs!

Engage in online discussion!

After a long day at work the last thing you want to do is open a textbook. Instead you log on to twitter and join a discussion about ED Overcrowding. You click on a few of the links and expand your understanding. You learned about advocacy and didn’t even know it!
Solitary Private and independent. You spend time alone and you like to retreat somewhere quiet to learn. Blogs and podcasts are probably your best bet. You can read and listen to these anytime, anywhere and all on your own.The online world provides the independent learner with all the material they could need! The world is your oyster. You wake up early before work to get some reading in. You grab a coffee and scroll through your “feedly” articles. After an hour of perusing you head to work.As luck would have it, the first article you read on pneumonia was extremely relevant when the first patient you see has a cough and fever.

*adapted from Learning-Styles-Inventory 

Reflecting on Your Style

After you take the quiz it’s helpful to think about what the results mean to you. These were my results:

The expected

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 3.43.59 PM

  • The test ranked me as both a social and solitary learner. Though it seems strange to have high scores in both domains, I do feel that I learn well independently and with a group. It all depends on the type of information, the stage of my own understanding and where I expect to end up. I feel that I often need both to fully understand a concept.

The Unexpected

  • I was surprised to see that I ranked as highly on aural learning. I rarely use auditory cues to remember information and though I like to jam on my guitar and to the radio in my free time I rarely incorporate music into my efforts to learn medicine. Maybe I should.
  • I was also surprised to see that my ranking of visual and logical were low. The way that I survived pre-clerkship was with flowcharts. I found making them by piecing together all the bits of information (logical) then picturing them (visual) when I needed information very helpful. On reflection, I realize that I can only do this with my own notes. Using other people’s flow charts or notes was not nearly as helpful. Creating, not seeing, is the key for me. So perhaps I am not as visual learner as I thought!
  • I have a visceral reaction to anything audio without good visual stimulation. I don’t listen to podcasts (yes I said it!!)- I will read show notes and summary blog posts but I cannot stick out an entire episode of anything. Maybe that’s why I’ve never won the SGEM weekly prize! I am surprised that verbal (written and spoken) are lumped together in this learning style inventory. This article highlights how students aren’t always the best judge of how they learn, so maybe for one week I will plug-in the headphones and give it a try. Maybe it will be good for me.


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The Bottom Line

  • There is no one learning style that is best for a learner for every situation.
  • FOAM provides information in a way that is well suited to a variety of learning styles. You don’t just have to pick one.
  • If a learner is struggling with a concept a discussion about how they have been trying to learn and switching learning style gears might be helpful.
  • As a teacher, deciding to present information in an appropriate way is key. As a learner, seeking out information that is presented appropriately also key. For example, a podcast on suturing techniques really wouldn’t be very helpful.
  • Learning styles aren’t perfect but they do provide an opportunity to discuss how and why we are learning in certain ways.

What are your thoughts on learning styles? How do you use FOAM to best support your learning? Please comment below if you want to add to the discussion!

This post was reviewed by Dr. Lalani (@ERMentor).

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A junior emergency medicine resident with interest in rural medicine, medical education and social media in health care. When not working in the hospital, she is usually running, playing guitar or planning an outdoor adventure.

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4 Responses to FOAM, Learning Styles and You

  1. Ciaran McCullagh says:

    Cannot emphasise enough the value of exploring ones own learning style. How many times have you suffered through a lecture, or watched the dust grow on the cover of a particular tome ? All because it didn’t suit or mostly suit your style. Matching your learning style to the medium utilised in a program will definitely prevent you from having that “is anybody going to give me back that 8 hours of my life” experience I recently had when enduring a refresher on statistical analysis.

    As an educator, it is equally important for me to have an awareness of student’s learning styles, this challenges me to find differing methods to deliver the message, and thus we all benefit.

    There are many sites offering this learning style analysis service, most charge a small fee, but the results, as exampled above can be illuminating. At least now I know I’m not just stupid…..

  2. Deirdre says:

    Physical people online play games and participate in sites like Second Life.

  3. […] related posts “In the nick of time: resources used on shift“, “FOAM, Learning Styles and You” and “Finding Fantastic FOAM” I outlined great apps and resources for learners to […]

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