Tuning In Your Tuned Out Students

Many educators these days are struggling to reach students who just seemed tuned out. Take a look at how simple changes to the way information is presented can help tune those students back in.

You’re repeating yourself for the umpteenth time, yet the students just aren’t getting it. What could be going wrong? How do you engage your students better?

I want to show you a quick example of how “modality” - a fancy name for the best way to present information given the circumstances - dramatically alters your ability to learn. Yes, I know you’re probably a faculty or teacher. But let’s put on our student hat and try the following. Note: no looking ahead!

Let’s say you want a student to learn directions about what to do when they arrive at the San Diego airport.

Option 1 - Text-based (or you could simply tell them the following):

Your plane gets in at gate 43. Follow the terminal past the ticketing line and take a left to get to the baggage claim. Once you get your bags, you’ll need to get to the short-term parking lot to take a taxi. There are two short-term parking lots; you want the eastern one, which is not directly in front of where you get your bag. From there, tell the taxi to exit Airport-Terminal Road onto North Harbor Drive (which is - confusingly - south of North Harbour Rd).

Now, answer the following questions:

  1. Where’s the baggage claim?
  2. Where do you go to get a taxi?
  3. What two roads should the taxi follow to get you away from the airport?

Try answering the above. How easy is it, given the way the information is presented?

Option 2 - Visual

Okay, now let’s try answering those same questions again. Study the map below for ~30 seconds to see how easy it is to get the information needed:


  1. Where’s the baggage claim?
  2. Where do you go to get a taxi?
  3. What two roads should the taxi follow to get you away from the airport?

Much easier, no? The example above was spiraled from a wonderful book, Telling Ain’t Training, whose guiding principles include:

●     “Start with the learner and never lose focus.”

●      “Present principles that apply to all types of learning: mental (cognitive), physical (psychomotor), emotional(affective), and, of course, combinations and mixtures of those.”

Interestingly, “learner styles” - visual, auditory, kinesthetic - are a myth. Research has shown that these styles aren’t hard-coded into students. Sure, they may have their preferences, but it’s on the faculty to present the information in the best form for that information to facilitate student engagement.

How does this apply to health care? The traditional syllabus in medical school - for example - thought that the first two years should be spent hitting the books to learn the basic sciences BEFORE students were ready to apply that knowledge to patients. Of course, almost every medical school has now changed their approach to integrate different types of experiential learning into the classroom, often starting the first week of class!

Now, you as an instructor may not be able to fundamentally alter your institution's curriculum. But you probably DO have the ability to use materials to bring that realism into the classroom.

Among a host of ideas generated at a recent ReelDx-NAEMSE webinar, educators came up with this list of materials to bring realism into the classroom:

●      Patient video cases

●      VR

●      Simulation

●      Podcasts

●      Animations

Finding the right balance of educational tools for YOUR students takes a lot of thought and work. We at ReelDx deeply believe in the realism that patient video cases provide, and if you’d like to take a trial of using our video cases, we’d be more than happy to help you do so.

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Rob Humbracht