Pathophysiology is a complex and sometimes overwhelming topic for students. Being able to answer the question “why is my patient experiencing this?” is vital for our graduate nurses and clinical practitioners. They need to identify and understand how to manage abnormal changes in patients – with accuracy and without delay.

It can be difficult to do all this with just a traditional textbook. With digital technologies now readily available, the power of interactive and animated learning resources cannot be underestimated. They help students use different mechanisms in their brain and memory to retain information. Peate’s Fundamentals of Applied Pathophysiology (1st Edition) offers students innovative interactive modules to complement the traditional textbook learning. Dr Sufyan Akram, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at Charles Darwin University, took the lead in creating these animated learning resources.

Managing the cognitive load of pathophysiology students with interactive modules

Managing the cognitive load of students is very important. Dr Akram is an advocate for re-framing how we teach students: “Providing information to students using visual, auditory and other cues, cements the information in their long-term memory.” These are the principles that have guided Dr Akram while developing interactive content throughout his teaching career.

For the dynamic process of pathophysiology, there is an order of occurrences related to a patient’s condition – one thing leads to another. Dr Akram adds, “In providing information on a static image or text it becomes wordy, and students need to use their imagination to really understand. But we can provide them an interactive module where information is flowing logically, and there’s some level of personalisation – they can stop, rewatch, rewind, go forward or backwards. So that helps students solidly cement their understanding of these complex topics.”

Dr Akram’s interactive modules focus on the art of storytelling. They are a mix of many different activities that relate to a case study of a real-life scenario. For example, the patient presents with certain symptoms and signs, and the attending physician orders certain investigations: the story begins. Dr Akram explains, “We are bringing pathophysiology into the clinical context: from patient presentation we work backwards to see how the disease was caused.”

Dr Akram also describes the importance of language use. “We use conversational language, not written language, so it’s much more relatable to the student. Textbook language can be intimidating, so as a balance, the interactive modules reflect a friendly conversational style.”

How to use interactives to teach effectively and efficiently

Tip 1:
Give students bite-sized learning. Interactive modules use short videos, interactive formative quizzes, and activities like drag & drop, click-through images, and other approaches. Students can work at their own pace, check their knowledge, and move to the next step. While YouTube is flooded with many animated videos that may seem helpful, they are not linked together nor linked to a specific health course. Purpose-built interactive modules create the context that suits a student’s university course at the appropriate depth.

Tip 2:
Don’t provide students with everything. Tickle their curiosity. Give students cues that get them thinking. There is much ground to cover in health courses and specifically pathophysiology, so determining the right level of foundational information is important. Interactive modules should dive to just the right level for students to continue their own research later in their course or career.

Tip 3:
Reduce the burden of long lectures. Dr Akram suggests the educators don’t necessarily need to give an hour lecture on a topic and keep repeating the same content. Academics can enjoy less spoon-feeding and move towards having more valuable discussion time. “Students who have gone through these interactive modules will then come to their teacher with questions, rather than just sitting in a lecture and having a passive learning experience.” Educators can create a two-way street, a learning dialogue. This leads to a deeper learning experience.