Practical skills teaching in contemporary surgical education: how can educational theory be applied to promote effective learning?

Am J Surg. 2012 Sep;204(3):396-401. doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2011.12.020. Epub 2012 Jun 9.


Background: Teaching practical skills is a core component of undergraduate and postgraduate surgical education. It is crucial to optimize our current learning and teaching models, particularly in a climate of decreased clinical exposure. This review explores the role of educational theory in promoting effective learning in practical skills teaching.

Methods: Peer-reviewed publications, books, and online resources from national bodies (eg, the UK General Medical Council) were reviewed.

Results: This review highlights several aspects of surgical education, modeling them on current educational theory. These include the following: (1) acquisition and retention of motor skills (Miller's triangle; Fitts' and Posner's theory), (2) development of expertise after repeated practice and regular reinforcement (Ericsson's theory), (3) importance of the availability of expert assistance (Vygotsky's theory), (4) learning within communities of practice (Lave and Wenger's theory), (5) importance of feedback in learning practical skills (Boud, Schon, and Endes' theories), and (6) affective component of learning.

Conclusions: It is hoped that new approaches to practical skills teaching are designed in light of our understanding of educational theory.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / trends
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • General Surgery / education*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Mentors
  • Motor Skills*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Social Support
  • Teaching / methods*
  • Teaching / trends
  • United Kingdom
  • United States