Creating a better learning environment: a qualitative study uncovering the experiences of Master Adaptive Learners in residency

Linda Regan, Laura R. Hopson, Michael A. Gisondi, Jeremy Branzetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Adaptive expertise is an important physician skill, and the Master Adaptive Learner (MAL) conceptual model describes learner skills and behaviors integral to the acquisition of adaptive expertise. The learning environment is postulated to significantly impact how MALs learn, but it is unclear how these successful learners experience and interact with it. This study sought to understand the authentic experience of MALs within the learning environment and translate those experiences into practical recommendations to improve the learning environment for all trainees. Methods: Following a constructivist paradigm, we conducted a thematic analysis of transcripts from focus groups composed of MALs to identify commonalities in experiences and practices of successful postgraduate trainees in the learning environment. Saturation was achieved after seven focus groups, consisting of thirty-eight participants representing fourteen specialties from four institutions. Researchers coded transcripts using constant comparison analysis, which served as the foundation for our thematic analysis. Results: We identified eight themes and situated them within a 4-component model of the learning environment. Four themes were identified within the personal component: (1) patients drive learning; (2) learning has no endpoint; (3) management of emotions is crucial for learning; (4) successful learning requires a structured approach. Two themes were identified in the social component: (5) positive social relationships are leveraged to maximize learning; (6) teaching facilitates personal learning. Two themes were identified in the organizational component: (7) transitions challenge learners to adapt; (8) the learning environment dictates goal setting strategy. No major themes were identified in the physical/virtual component, although participants frequently used technology when learning. Conclusions: Master Adaptive Learners experience similar facilitators of, and barriers to, success in the learning environment. Overall, our data show that acquisition of many successful strategies and skills that support learning are relegated to the hidden curriculum of residency training. Educators could support a more effective learning environment for all trainees by: (1) highlighting patients as the focal point of learning, (2) building a professional ‘learner’ identity, (3) teaching learning skills, and (4) creating opportunities for collaborative learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number141
JournalBMC medical education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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