Background: Mobile technology is increasingly being used by clinicians to access up-to-date information for patient care. These offer learning opportunities in the clinical setting for medical students but the underlying pedagogic theories are not clear. A conceptual framework is needed to understand these further. Our initial questions were how the medical students used the technology, how it enabled them to learn and what theoretical underpinning supported the learning.
Methods: 387 medical students were provided with a personal digital assistant (PDA) loaded with medical resources for the duration of their clinical studies. Outcomes were assessed by a mixed-methods triangulation approach using qualitative and quantitative analysis of surveys, focus groups and usage tracking data.
Results: Learning occurred in context with timely access to key facts and through consolidation of knowledge via repetition. The PDA was an important addition to the learning ecology rather than a replacement. Contextual factors impacted on use both positively and negatively. Barriers included concerns of interrupting the clinical interaction and of negative responses from teachers and patients. Students preferred a future involving smartphone platforms.
Conclusions: This is the first study to describe the learning ecology and pedagogic basis behind the use of mobile learning technologies in a large cohort of undergraduate medical students in the clinical environment. We have developed a model for mobile learning in the clinical setting that shows how different theories contribute to its use taking into account positive and negative contextual factors.The lessons from this study are transferable internationally, to other health care professions and to the development of similar initiatives with newer technology such as smartphones or tablet computers.