Psychological need fulfillment in virtual teaching: insights of residents and faculty

Int J Med Educ. 2023 Jun 22;14:77-83. doi: 10.5116/ijme.6488.2625.


Objective: To explore benefits and challenges experienced by residents and faculty when teaching in virtual settings.

Methods: This was a qualitative descriptive study employing one-on-one semi-structured interviews with 10 residents and 12 faculty in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, Canada, from May 2021 to May 2022. Participants were recruited via social media, resident and department events and email lists. Interview transcripts were analyzed descriptively and thematically employing the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) framework to map the identified benefits and challenges as facilitators and barriers to fulfilling teacher's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness in virtual settings.

Results: Resident and faculty participants used virtual technology not only to deliver education, but also leveraged various platform features to support their needs in virtual settings. The emerging themes within benefits and challenges of virtual teaching were amenable to mapping onto three basic psychological needs of the SDT framework - autonomy (e.g., increased accessibility; lack of control over teaching environment), competence (e.g., increased self-confidence; technological limitations hindering skill development), and relatedness (e.g., timely exchange of information; difficulty with professional identity formation).

Conclusions: Despite the inherent challenges, teaching in virtual settings can support teachers' psychological needs. Recommendations for the future delivery and facilitation of virtual learning include: giving high priority to engagement and active participation; nurturing autonomy and greater individual responsibility for learning; and creating an environment of emotional support. The SDT-informed strategies shown to be effective in in-person teaching need to be examined for their applicability in virtual settings.

Keywords: faculty; medical education; psychological needs; resident; self-determination theory; virtual teaching.

MeSH terms

  • Educational Status
  • Faculty*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Teaching