Elicit the Needs of Diverse Learners

In clinical teaching situations, learners may instinctively want to suppress characteristics that they perceive make them different. Learning is enhanced by community faculty taking an interest in and working to understand the unique backgrounds of students, in order to better develop their clinical skills.1,2

Community faculty must move beyond recognizing diversity among learners, and actively explore what these differences mean for students and, ultimately, for patients.3,4 Formal training in cultural competence, as well as recognizing unconscious bias, can increase the comfort level for community faculty to be able to discuss this topic.5 Clear and open communication between learners and community faculty in clarifying issues of diversity in terms of comfort, goals, and expectations can improve interactions, clinical learning, and patient care.

By taking an active interest in the unique characteristics of their learner, community faculty can provide a comfortable learning environment where learners can be true to their identities. Fostering trust and open communication can allow clinical teams to set mutual goals for educational and patient care objectives.

Quick Tips:

  • Recognize unique differences among learners
  • Use open-ended questions to explore what learners are willing to share
  • Avoid microagressions, including clichés, stereotypes or jumping to conclusions about learners
  • Ask learners what you need to know to best meet their learning needs
  • Agree on mutual goals based on curricular objectives that can be achieved during teaching experiences

Authors: Joanna Drowos, DO, MPH, MBA, Cecil Robinson, PhD

  1. Whitla DK, Orfield G, Silen W, et al. Educational benefits of diversity in medical school: a survey of students. Acad Med 2003;78:460–6.
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24783.
  3. Ladson-Billings, G. Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Am Educ Res J, 1995; 32(3): 465–91, doi:10.3102/00028312032003465.
  4. Gay G. Culturally Responsive Teaching. [New York] Teachers College Press; 2010.
  5. Ross H. Everyday Bias. [Place of publication not identified]: Rowman & Littlefield; 2016.