Background: Adaptation to learning styles has been proposed to enhance learning.
Objective: We hypothesized that learners with sensing learning style would perform better using a problem-first instructional method while intuitive learners would do better using an information-first method.
Design: Randomized, controlled, crossover trial.
Setting: Resident ambulatory clinics.
Participants: 123 internal medicine residents.
Interventions: Four Web-based modules in ambulatory internal medicine were developed in both "didactic" (information first, followed by patient problem and questions) and "problem" (case and questions first, followed by information) format.
Measurements: Knowledge posttest, format preference, learning style (Index of Learning Styles).
Results: Knowledge scores were similar between the didactic (mean +/- standard error, 83.0 +/- 0.8) and problem (82.3 +/- 0.8) formats (p = .42; 95% confidence interval [CI] for difference, -2.3 to 0.9). There was no difference between formats in regression slopes of knowledge scores on sensing-intuitive scores (p = .63) or in analysis of knowledge scores by styles classification (sensing 82.5 +/- 1.0, intermediate 83.7 +/- 1.2, intuitive 81.0 +/- 1.5; p = .37 for main effect, p = .59 for interaction with format). Format preference was neutral (3.2 +/- 0.2 [1 strongly prefers didactic, 6 strongly prefers problem], p = .12), and there was no association between learning styles and preference (p = .44). Formats were similar in time to complete modules (43.7 +/- 2.2 vs 43.2 +/- 2.2 minutes, p = .72).
Conclusions: Starting instruction with a problem (versus employing problems later on) may not improve learning outcomes. Sensing and intuitive learners perform similarly following problem-first and didactic-first instruction. Results may apply to other instructional media.