Learning skills are critical determinants of success in a learner-centered model in all the education specialties including medical science education. It is important for medical students to develop sound learning habits due to technicality of the stream and importance of the knowledge required to practice it for a successful career in medical sciences. Medical students display wide spectrum in terms of knowledge accumulation, culture, knowledge quality, age, level of preparedness, as well as learning preferences and styles [1, 2] It is surprising for the students that a particular course of action intended to achieve learning itself must be learned properly. However, after around 10-12 years of formal schooling, a large number of students enter in the higher education by enrolling into graduate programs without having prior knowledge of any fundamental learning skills. When these students start the subject of medical education then they motivated to become a more active learner, and understanding of fundamentals of learning skills and its management is absolutely necessary [3, 4]. A majority of the students realize that they need to assimilate a significant amount of novel information during their learning process, and this type of diverse thinking process is generally welcomed by the tutors . However, this process of learning skills of the students also poses a challenge for the tutors to encounter the educational needs of the students. Also, those students who fail to recognize the importance of learning skills, they usually face various problems and difficulties in coping with the requirements of the subject and face huge academic pressure that ultimately leads to poor academic performance . The value of learning skills has long been a source of exchange of views and ideas among teachers at all the levels of educational development . Although, various researches are under progress to endorse the inclusion of learning skills such as time management, stress management, learning theories, and other skills to progress in the academic success . A study showed that the medical students who did not undergo specific training with learning and communication skills, declined in their interviewing performance during their clinical years .
The learning skills course leaves an indelible mark of positive impression on the mood and motivation of the entire medical education process. Lately, in the year 2014, a local study reported that 71.9% students supported the complementarity of the learning skills exercises with the course, and according to them those were very useful in the academic success . Earlier reports published from different regions of the world demonstrated a high prevalence of psychological morbidity, like, anxiety, stress, and depression, among the undergraduate medical students [10, 11]. A local study published in the year 2011, reported a high prevalence of stress among female (75.5%) and male (57%) medical students . Whatever is the background, like lack of proper stress management or dearth of time management; it is obvious that the transformation from high school to medical college is not an easy journey, which frequently ensues in frustration and poor academic performance in their medical education process. Generally, this happens not because they lack the ability to grasp or the awareness about subject knowledge, but they failed to understand the learning style or sometimes they do not have effective learning skills and coping strategies. Likewise, another study revealed that good and positive time management approach improves students’ GPA score, whereas poor and negative time management approach declines the academic performance [13, 14, 15]. Although, some medical colleges have a system of student guidance and other endorsing programs, but still there is a paucity of well-structured courses on students’ learning skills .
The reform of medical education system is a biggest challenge in all the medical colleges as getting up-to-date with novel technologies to understand the learning concept is not easy. The college of medicine, Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University (IMSIU), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has started using dynamic Blackboard (Bb) from last 7-8 years to improve the learning skills of the undergraduate students. In order to track the effectiveness of these newly introduced learning skills to the medical students’ of IMSIU for their understanding of medical education, this study was aimed to evaluate the IMSIU’s college of medicine’s activities of running a learning skills course for the first year medical students describing the characterized process, instructional strategy and assessment of the course. Also, this study evaluates the utilization of Bb for the first year medical students in their learning process and skills development. The overall objective of this students’ feedback survey based study was to assess the utility of the learning skills for the medical students, as with the help of these learning skills that they can successfully overcome the challenges occur during their medical education process and can lead to improvement in the current learning process ensuing into learner oriented changes in the teaching policy.
Context: The ‘learning skills’ (LS) course was introduced initially in the newly reformed medical curriculum of IMSIU during the academic year 2008 - 2009. This course was introduced in undergraduate medical curriculum to develop sound learning habits such as problem based, community oriented, and outcome based learning among the medical students. These learning habits include the identification of medical students’ learning needs, selection of what to learn, and successful reflection of their learning experience in their academic performance. The LS course was introduced with the intention to achieve some competencies listed in the Saudi medical professionals’ framework, such as inter-professional collaboration, clinical reasoning-&-decision making, communication skills, professionalism, knowledge of information gathering tools, and associated research tasks. This LS course comprises 20 interactive sessions (each session 1 hour), such as communication skills, problem based learning (PBL), time management, stress management etc.; out of 20 sessions, 4 sessions are allocated for Blackboard (Bb) training and Bb learning management (version 9.2 service pack 10) program that works on Windows operating and Java (1.6) based hosting system. Bb provides various interactive tools for the students like announcement, calendar, informing the learner about the subject, grades etc. In IMSIU’s college of medicine, the LS course is made available in the first semester of the first year medical program. The total number of the students (both males and females) enrolled in the course were 312 in the academic year 2019-2020. The LS course was open for enrollment to the students who had successfully completed their preparatory year. The student’s course guide was sent to the registered students, faculty members, and other educators or trainers involved in the course in electronic or hard-copy format. The student’s course guide contained all the necessary information including the course title, course code, credit hours, course duration, name and contact information of the course committee members, aim(s), general and specific objective(s) of the course, title of the sessions with instructional methods, schedule, suggested references, etc. The overall objective of the LS course is to facilitate the transition process of the medical students into academic teaching and learning culture by employing specific learning skills and generating self-motivation in order to excel in their academic performance or to get success in their future studies. This is the very first report from Saudi Arabia on students’ perspective about the impacts of the LS course and learning management system on their academic performance in a reformed-system based curriculum.