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Research Briefing

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Research Summary

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     Phase III Research Network:
      Vicarious Learning and Case-Based Teaching of Clinical Reasoning Skills (2004 - 2006)

This project has now completed. Major outputs include:

Dr. Richard Cox (University of Sussex)
Dr. John Lee (University of Edinburgh)
Dr. Rosemary Varley (University of Sheffield)
Dr. Julie Morris (University of Newcastle)

Project Summary

"Vicarious Learning" (VL) is the notion that people can and will learn through being given access to the learning experiences of others. Simple traditional examples are instances such as master classes in music and the process of clinical teachers going through cases with students. In these situations, one person or student is the focus of tutorial attention, but others present will benefit from observing the interaction. Also, as teachers know, many students are too shy to indicate their need for help in class - such students learn a great deal from observing and overhearing the learning experiences of others. But although we know VL is effective in broad terms, our aim in this project is to find out more about how and why VL works.

A broader application of the VL idea envisages it being used in the development of multimedia databases of learning experiences which can be made available to other learners. In this project we aim to add VL resources to an established on-line learning resource called PATSy ( This is a web-based multimedia database shell that makes 'virtual patients' available to trainees, educators, clinicians and researchers in various clinical professions and cognate academic disciplines, in use in over 25 UK university departments. The domains represented include developmental reading disorders, neuropsychology, neurology/medical rehabilitation and speech and language pathologies.

In this project we focussed on the training of speech and language therapists, particularly their learning of diagnostic skills. We studied pairs of individuals using PATSy ‚ students and tutors, and students and clinicians. Dialogues were videotaped, and interactions with the PATSy system recorded. Learning difficulties that students encountered with clinical assessment were identified. Then, recorded video clips of students discussing the difficult topics with other students or tutors were produced and incorporated into PATSy as VL learning resources.

To achieve this we aim to developed techniques for eliciting learning dialogues that will subsequently be effective as vicarious learning resources for other. When a future PATSy user encounters a learning impasse, they can then call up an appropriate pre-recorded discussion of the issue to view. They thus become vicarious learners. Although the focus of this project was on learning by students of the health professions, general principles for the production of effective VL material were developed for application to other domains (e.g. initial teacher training).


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