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Developing the Master Learner: Applying Learning Theory to the Learner, the Teacher, and the Learning Environment

Schumacher, Daniel J. MD, MEd; Englander, Robert MD, MPH; Carraccio, Carol MD, MA

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182a6e8f8

As a result of the paradigm shift to a competency-based framework, both self-directed lifelong learning and learner-centeredness have become essential tenets of medical education. In the competency-based framework, learners drive their own educational process, and both learners and teachers share the responsibility for the path and content of learning. This learner-centered emphasis requires each physician to develop and maintain lifelong learning skills, which the authors propose culminate in becoming a “master leaner.” To better understand the development of these skills and the attainment of that goal, the authors explore how learning theories inform the development of master learners and how to translate these theories into practical strategies for the learner, the teacher, and the learning environment so as to optimize this development.

The authors begin by exploring self-determination theory, which lays the groundwork for understanding the motivation to learn. They next consider the theories of cognitive load and situated cognition, which inform the optimal context and environment for learning. Building from this foundation, the authors consider key educational theories that affect learners’ abilities to serve as primary drivers of their learning, including self-directed learning (SDL); the self-assessment skills necessary for SDL; factors affecting self-assessment (self-concept, self-efficacy, illusory superiority, gap filling); and ways to mitigate the inaccuracies of self-assessment (reflection, self-monitoring, external information seeking, and self-directed assessment seeking).

For each theory, they suggest practical action steps for the learner, the teacher, and the learning environment in an effort to provide a road map for developing master learners.

Dr. Schumacher is associate program director, Boston Combined Residency Program in Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital/Boston Medical Center, and assistant professor of pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Englander is senior director, Competency-Based Learning and Assessment, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC.

Dr. Carraccio is vice president, Competency-Based Assessment Programs, American Board of Pediatrics, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Funding/Support: None.

Other disclosures: None.

Ethical approval: Not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Daniel J. Schumacher, MD, MEd, Boston Medical Center, 771 Albany St., Boston, MA 02118; telephone: (617) 414-3599; e-mail:

© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges