Study Tips

Self-Directed Learning in the Time of COVID-19

Edith Gonzalez
Published on Apr 2, 2020. Updated on Mar 17, 2023.

A self-directed medical curriculum has unique challenges. In today’s blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Edith Gonzalez shares her usual routine and how it has been impacted by COVID-19.

Though many medical school curriculums are traditional, some are geared towards self-directed student learning. In a self-directed learning curriculum, the bulk of information-gathering and learning falls on the students. The faculty aids students by providing guidelines, prompting discussion, and encouraging collaboration. Though discussion groups typically occur in person, this dynamic has changed entirely with the advent of COVID-19. 

In this blog post, I’ll share my tips on how I navigate a self-directed curriculum while preparing for future board exams. I’ll also touch on the changes that have come about as a result of COVID-19 and our curriculum moving online.

The most powerful platform for learning medicine and the health sciences. Try it now.

My hourly routine

One of the biggest challenges of my self-directed curriculum is creating a schedule. Our classes usually run from 8 AM to 12 PM from Monday through Friday. It’s our responsibility to make good use of all the free time available to us each day. This gives us the opportunity to create a schedule in accordance with our needs or preferences. My advice is to develop a flexible routine, especially since each medical student has unique hobbies and learning styles. This is especially pertinent in the age of COVID-19, when all learning has gone online.

This is what my personal daily schedule looks like:

6 AM–7:30 AM: Wake up, get ready for school, and review the day’s learning material.

8 AM–10 AM: Participate in small group discussions about a simulated case with 10 people on campus. These discussions moved online after COVID-19 arose.

10 AM–12 PM: Participate in large group discussions with my whole class on campus. This is a faculty-facilitated discussion of our assigned topics of the week. This discussion has also moved online due to COVID-19.

12 PM–2 PM: Go home, de-stress and have lunch. Currently, I’m already home due to COVID-19!

2 PM–5 PM: Review the day’s material and prepare for the next day’s discussions.

5 PM–6:30 PM: Have dinner and take my dog for a walk at a nearby trail.

7 PM–9 PM: Review more of the day’s material using Anki flashcards.

9 PM–10 PM: Prepare clothes, lunch, supplies and anything else I need for the next day.

Dealing with resource overload

In a self-directed program, students are given direction but not lectures. This means that we are responsible for finding and organizing information for the topics of the week in a manner that helps us learn it. This was the most difficult challenge to overcome. The resources available are uncountable; they include textbooks, YouTube videos, lectures, and video resources like Osmosis, Boards and Beyond, and Pathoma. The list is endless!

Osmosis illustration of OMEF Edith Gonzalez getting overwhelmed with a pile of books

My best advice is to find what resources work for you! Choose a couple and try them out. Not every student learns the same way and preparation is key for facilitated discussions. Here is how I manage resources and study on a daily basis:

  • Before class I watch Osmosis videos as an introduction to the topic that will be covered that day. Following that, I dissect the recommended reading in our science textbooks and take basic notes on broad topics.

  • During class I take notes and fill out specific details about the broad topics I identified before class.

  • After class I review my notes and board exam resources like First Aid, pre-made Anki decks, and Boards and Beyond.

Be open to change

After my exams, I evaluate my study method and dissect what did and did not work for me. I consider multiple factors like resources used, time spent studying, exam confidence and any weaknesses. After analyzing this, I make changes in my study plan for the upcoming unit. This self-reflection has allowed me to fine-tune my study techniques and evaluate my time management of school and other responsibilities. Be flexible and open to change, as this flexibility will enable you to study more efficiently.

Since our curriculum has gone online due to COVID-19, I’ve had to make adjustments to how I learn. We’ve been encouraged to keep studying, which is difficult given the changes occurring around us. It can be helpful to silence your notifications and designate a scheduled time slot to stay updated on current events and check in with family.

Medical student thinking about adjusting to online learning

Hopefully, this snapshot of a day in the life of a medical student has given you some insight and perspective. In medicine, learning is lifelong. My best advice to other students is to evaluate, adapt and make changes to your learning style as necessary. This flexibility is especially important when unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19 arise. Regularly improving my schedule and study habits has enabled me to be an efficient learner while distance learning. Try to stay on top of your priorities during this tumultuous time, maintain mental balance, and stay safe.

About Edith Gonzalez

Edith is a first-year medical student at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine. In her free time, she de-stresses by reading a book or helping her family with chores around their small farm.

The most powerful platform for learning medicine. Try it now.

Try Osmosis today! Access your free trial and find out why millions of clinicians and caregivers love learning with us.