Integrating Learning Health Systems into Medical Education

Medicine

The original concepts behind learning health systems (LHS) were meant to address myriad concerns within the field of Western medicine, ranging from the high cost of healthcare (and resulting need for clinicians to provide greater overall value of care to their patients) to the wasteful gap of time between scientific innovations and their implementation within clinical environments. Although LHS have displayed much promise, and have begun to hasten the pace at which new insights can be put into real-time medical practice, they have faced significant stumbling blocks along the way. The reasons for this slow progress revolve around the ways in which LHS demand that clinicians learn not only new skills, but also new ways of thinking and making inquiries. In this arena, clinicians entering the workforce for the first time have a distinct advantage. They learn the basic philosophy and applications of LHS as a part of their baseline training, without needing to unlearn ingrained mental habits that are the result of old practice models. The influx of a new generation of clinicians promises to expedite the growth of LHS into a universal standard.

Introduction

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Our technological progress has outstripped the capacity for traditional Western medicine to access and make constructive use of its innovations. New medical knowledge is generated at such a fast rate that it threatens to overwhelm clinicians. Our health system is constantly confronted with more options than it has the capacity to implement. High healthcare costs, and concerns about the quality of care being provided, have heaped further strain upon its resources. Clinical directors feel a financial imperative to ascertain what really works in medical practice, to draw upon practice-based evidence, and to implement this knowledge quickly.[i] Within such a climate, clinicians find themselves struggling to provide better and more affordable healthcare to a growing population of patients while continuing to educate themselves about the newest procedures that scientific innovation makes available.

Background and Significance

The concept of learning health systems (LHS) was first conceived as a means of rapidly converting scientific evidence into medical practice. It also envisioned a scenario wherein the relationship between medicine and scientific inquiry would be more reciprocal – i.e., research would be more closely aligned with the sorts of questions that practicing clinicians urgently needed answers for. Nowadays, the LHS model has begun to prove its efficiency in moving scientific innovations into the real world of clinical application. Figure 1: Learning Health Systems Data Flow to Outcomes

LHS FlowchartThe idea of LHS has essentially arisen in acknowledgement of the fact that innovation in itself cannot fix our nation’s healthcare system. In order for new information and evidence to have value, it must be put into use. Both clinicians and their patients benefit from the assurance that they are accessing the most state-of-the-art procedures. For too long, medical researchers and clinicians have operated in vastly different environments with incompatible timelines.[ii] This fragmentation of the health care system has taken a grievous toll in some crucial ways. Many innovations in the field of health care have taken years to finally become assimilated into common medical practice.[iii]

It isn’t economically feasible for established medicine to achieve the best possible results through the procedures that it has long relied upon. Evidence-based medicine seeks to do more with the knowledge that is generated by research. It focuses upon innovation, quality, value and safety, and continually seeks areas that are in need of improvement. LHS strive to make the best evidence available when it comes time for healthcare providers and their patients to make crucial decisions. As matters stand at the moment, many of the decision-making models that Western medicine employs were created during a time when it had access to vastly fewer information streams.

Entering a New Era

The key challenge inherent in implementing LHS is the actual dissemination of the new knowledge and evidence that is being generated by scientific research. Performing both research and clinical functions within the same organization can facilitate progress in this area. New insights and approaches must somehow reach clinical directors directly – and quickly. One key tool that has enabled the medical profession to begin adapting to the pace of change is electronic health records (EHR). Large EHR databases have been the most crucial development in the evolution of LHS.[iv] Studies of large populations can be conducted quickly and with much less expense than previously possible. Gone are the days of consuming valuable time sifting through mounds of paper records. Now a veritable mountain of health data can be aggregated, analyzed, and then disseminated throughout the medical community.

With 5.3 million patients and over 1,400 sites, the Veterans Health Administration (VA) created the largest integrated EHR of its time.[v] The journey began in 1982 with its creation of the Decentralized Hospital Computer Program (DHCH), one of the first programs to pull together various healthcare settings from multiple databases into one location. A network of other sites contributed to the evolution of this program over the next few years. Now known as VistA, it handles a wide array of functions to serve administrative, clinical and financial needs. Advances in EHR technology enable healthcare professionals to cull data from large populations and/or target their inquiries into specific health conditions. They can more easily draw conclusions about population measures of health and disease as well as the efficiency of their own performances – all while respecting the privacy of patients. Healthcare can be better coordinated between different branches of an organization. This is vital to optimizing resources within the medical infrastructure – i.e., improving the overall health of its patient constituency while reducing costs.[vi] It could be said that the overarching goal of LHS is to create an environment wherein clinicians are able to learn the best applications of new technologies at the same pace at which those technologies are being produced.

Current computer technology has opened avenues towards this reality in several ways. It’s become easier for different organizations to synchronize their efforts, both in research and implementation. This creates a kind of architecture for LHS on a national level. The evidence base that clinicians have access to has expanded significantly. Also, EHRs encourage patients to become more involved in the healthcare system. They can read their own records online as well as access other health information and online services. Some high-risk patients have in-home monitoring devices that can collect and transmit crucial information to care providers, enabling those providers to respond quickly in crisis situations. EHR also allow clinicians to identify more general trends that pertain to their practice. They can obtain a clearer picture of how well their care is working for a given individual over a period of time, for example. Data can also be cross-referenced to illustrate various drug interactions as well as low performance of certain medications across the board.

Short-Term Stumbling Blocks

EHR and other elements that are integral to LHS do not, as yet, compose a single system, but rather a series of interlinked systems – each with its own database. This limits a clinician’s ability to form general conclusions based upon all the evidence available in a certain area. Inquiries into the entire catalog of a particular patient’s history are difficult to make. Laboratory values have yet to be standardized across the field of medical practice, oftentimes making it hard to compare evidence between two or more systems. LHS can open up a much broader world of options and decisions for clinicians, and assimilate the constant stream of new evidence so that continual improvements can be made in the methods, philosophy and ideals of established medical practice. It is still in its nascent stages, however, and many changes must be implemented before it becomes a universal system. The question of data collection – particularly, when and how it may overstep a patient’s privacy rights – is one stumbling block.[vii] Concerns are often raised whenever clinicians desire access to data for any purpose beyond that of patient treatment (this is known as “secondary uses”).

Privacy laws on both state and federal levels govern how the healthcare system can collect and disclose identifiable health information. Determining when any disclosure contributes to the good of the general public is oftentimes a gray area. Federal research regulations can thus become an obstacle in the path of evolving LHS. Changes within any organization are oftentimes slow whenever they are profound enough to demand a shift in thinking. LHS represent a new model of the ways in which modern medicine can function. They essentially redefine every clinician’s role in the new paradigm. New kinds of patient-provider interactions fundamentally change the way in which medicine is practiced. How flexible can the medical profession be in examining its own belief systems and accepting new findings that contradict old “facts” – and thus call for new procedures? This can pose special challenges for clinicians who have been working in the field for a number of years. For such practitioners, old models of inquiry, research, education and procedure have become deeply ingrained. The process of unlearning must occur before the new system can be thoroughly accepted. For these reasons, LHS have not been broadly utilized by Western medicine, despite the fact that the Institute of Medicine and many prominent clinicians throughout the U.S. have long championed them.

A Possible Way Forward

These particular challenges won’t exist for clinicians entering the workforce for the first time, however. For decades, employment in the healthcare industry has been growing, undeterred even by our economic downturn. Health care opened its arms to 559,000 new employees between December of 2007, when the current recession began, and November 2009.[viii] The level of employment in healthcare-related occupations is projected to keep increasing, as well. Several factors can account for this growth. Technological advances in patient care allows for a greater number of health problems to be treated. Statistically, increasing numbers of people are seeking – and receiving – preventative care as well. What’s more, our nation’s population is both growing and aging. The baby boomers are entering a stage of life that typically involves more medical concerns and the need for added attention. Modern medical knowledge and procedure has extended the general life expectancy, creating a situation wherein our nation has a larger population of elderly people than it ever supported in the past. It is projected that by 2030 more than a fifth of the American population (70 million people) will be over the age of 65.[ix] This ensures the growth of career opportunities for geriatric health workers. The need for an influx of new employees in the field of healthcare is obvious. But advances in online educational opportunities have streamlined the training process for many people, as well, enabling them to qualify for certain positions much more quickly than workers of previous generations were able to. All of these workers entering into the field of healthcare will learn the fundamentals of LHS as part of their primary medical education.[x] [xi] This will include the increasing use of physics- and computer-based technology and training via simulation. They will not have to unlearn old mental habits before they assimilate these new models and procedures.

Using a computed health-knowledge base profoundly alters traditional roles and responsibilities within the clinical world. They demand changes in what a clinician needs to know as well as in the ways that he or she learns. But all of this is easier for people who are getting acclimated to the system for the first time, and are not steeped in older structures of medical thought. Such people will contribute greatly to the growth of LHS because they will absorb its basic principles as part of their fundamental medical education and then build upon that knowledge base for the remainder of their careers. Unhampered by previous (and now outdated) models and practices, they’ll be able to move forward with this new approach to medicine without having to fight against old ingrained habits. They will be more comfortable than their predecessors would have been in a working environment where new research constantly influences and changes existing practice.

Reference:

  1. Etheredge, L. (2007). A Rapid-Learning Health System Health Affairs, 26 (2) DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.26.2.w107
  2. A ‘learning health system’ moves from idea to action,” Medicalxpress.com, August 2012.
  3. McGraw, Devin (2012) “Paving the Regulatory Road to the ‘Learning Health Care System’”  Stanford Law Review Online. http://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/privacy-paradox/learning-health-care-system
  4. Etheredge, Lynn M. “Envisioning a Rapid-Learning Healthcare System”, Institute of Medicine (US) Roundtable on Evidence-Based Medicine; Olsen LA, Aisner D, McGinnis JM, editors. The Learning Healthcare System: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007. 4, New Approaches—Learning Systems in Progress.
  5. Chou, A., Vaughn, T., McCoy, K., & Doebbeling, B. (2011). Implementation of evidence-based practices Health Care Management Review, 36 (1), 4-17 DOI: 10.1097/HMR.0b013e3181dc8233
  6. Elmore, Rich (2012) “Toward a learning health system” The Allscripts Blog.
  7. “The Common Rule and Continuous Improvement in Health Care: A Learning Health System Perspective,” Harry Selker, Claudia Grossmann, Alyce Adams, Donald Goldmann, Christopher Dezii, Gregg Meyer, Veronique Roger, Lucy Savitz and Richard Platt. October 2011. P.6.
  8. United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Health Care, 2009.
  9. “America’s aging will increase demand for geriatric health workers,” Explore Health Careers.org, 2009.
  10. The case for knowledge translation: shortening the journey from evidence to effect,”  Dave Davis, Mike Evans, Alex Jadad, Laure Perrier, Darlyne Rath, David Ryan, Gary Sibbald, Sharon Straus, Susan Rappolt, Maria Wowk, Merrick Zwarenstein. BMJ. 2003 July 5; 327(7405): 33–35.
  11.  “Training the Learning Health Professional.” Institute of Medicine (US) Roundtable on Evidence-Based Medicine; Olsen LA, Aisner D, McGinnis JM, editors. The Learning Healthcare System: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007. 7.

5 Active Learning Strategies for the Science Classroom

Image Credit: Fuse

Image Credit: Fuse

Active learning is all about engaging students and getting them to actively participate in a lesson. This is the very opposite of traditional science lectures, where students sit passively and make notes while a lecturer talks. Research has shown that the human brain is better at remembering facts, solving problems and stays more engaged when stimulated with an absorbing activity. The five strategies outlined below show how this can be achieved and how your students can become successful active learners in the science classroom:

1. Start with an opening question

The start of a new lesson or lecture should provide a bridge between content previously covered and that which is about to be covered. A quick and simple way of achieving this involves starting with an opening question that provokes thought. For example, a lesson could ask students to think of their own recollections of the 2012 Mars rover landing and give an example of a moment that inspired them. The scene is then set for a brief discussion which everyone can contribute to, before a transition to the main part of the lesson.

2. Think-pair-share

‘Think-pair-share’ is an active learning strategy that requires students to develop their ideas as an individual, as a pair and as part of a larger group. The technique can be used at the start of a lesson to introduce a theme and also mid-way through to summarize the learning that has taken place. In the first step, students are asked to note down their thoughts in response to a question. They then pair up and explain ideas verbally to a partner. Finally, the teacher asks several pairs to share their best ideas with the class. The strategy works well with classes of various sizes and can be completed in as little as two or three minutes, making it a versatile technique which is easily incorporated into lesson plans.

3. Focused listing

Focused listing involves asking students to produce a list in response to a specific question. For example, ‘list ten learning outcomes that were covered in the previous lesson’ or ‘list as many biological characteristics of the human heart as you can’ will quickly generate a large number of responses from the class. The teacher can circulate round the class while students are producing the list and gauge the level of understanding or recollection that is present. Finally, students can be invited to share their lists which can then be summarized with the rest of the class.

4. Brainstorm

Image Credit: Indiana University

Brainstorming works well at the beginning of a lesson and requires students to list what they know about a certain topic. The activity works best when carried out in pairs or small groups, as students can often develop surprising connections between the ideas that are listed. Like the other strategies that have been listed, brainstorming can be adapted to classes of various sizes and requires minimal time to prepare

5. Question and answer pairs

In this technique students are paired together and take it turns to question and answer each other. The activity works well at the end of a lesson (or series of lessons) where a review of the learning needs to take place. Formulating and phrasing questions in the correct way is an excellent way of developing verbal communication skills and improving confidence with course content. If a competitive element is introduced, it can be interesting to see students striving to ask more and more challenging questions to catch their partner out!

Can MOOC’s Really Transform Education?

mooc

Traditional colleges often struggle with limited space availability in popular (or even core curriculum) courses. Higher education costs in the U.S. have sky-rocketed in recent years. A recent USA Today article reported that costs to attend a 4-year public university rose a staggering 15% between 2008 and 2010. To make matters worse, many graduates that are coming out of college are unable to find jobs while being saddled with enormous amounts of debt. Higher education in the U.S. is broken.

An Emerging Alternative

Education3The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) paradigm offers a rare opportunity to remedy these situations along with many others. The fact that the term includes the word massive illustrates the fact that such courses can be taken by a virtually unlimited number of students. This is revolutionary in its own right. The problem right now is not with student enrollment numbers, but the fact that organizations currently offering these MOOCs aren’t actually accredited to issue regular course credit to those that do the work. In other words, they don’t translate into college-level work that can be applied towards a degree. While some MOOCs are geared towards students who might want to learn more about a specific topic, most of them are essentially recreational at this point. Even so, individuals are learning new things, in an exciting way, in record numbers…so this is a good thing.

The other issue is (of course) about money. There is no clear indication of how organizations such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX will sustain their operations in the future. Equally unclear is if/when they start charging students, whether or not costs will be significantly lower than they are today. Plagiarism and other areas need to be addressed as well before these programs become viable degree options. However, existing online schools have found ways to deal with these issues and I’m sure these organizations will as well. Despite the obstacles that remain, the recent popularity of online learning has proven that learners are seeking alternatives to traditional schools in a big way.

The Logical Progression in Education

In the near-term future, MOOCs could ultimately transform the way that education works. Anyone who has done research on the recent success of MOOCs are familiar with the fact that some courses have had tens of thousands of signups. Last year, Google unleashed an open-source MOOC-building tool, and Stanford unveiled Class2Go with two courses. MOOCs are expected to continue to rise in popularity in 2013. While all of this may seem astounding, the idea of virtual teaching has been around for years. For instance, colleges have made use of radio and television in the past to provide instruction to students irrespective of their geographical location. MOOCs are simply the next logical step in this evolution given the rise of the Internet in recent years.

Despite the rise of popularity in online learning in recent years, many traditional institutions have been reluctant to offer full degree programs to people who never step foot inside of a classroom. For some degrees this makes perfect sense. No one would want to issue a medical license to someone who has been taught solely online. On the other hand, it seems relatively innocuous to incorporate distance learning into degree programs in a variety of other areas. As long as standards are created to ensure that learning occurs as designed and appropriate, there is no reason online education should continue to take a backseat to classroom-based learning in the future.

I view MOOCs as the 21st century descendents of the old broadcast instruction programs of the past. As education moves towards this new model, the work that students have done on their own will certainly become more important. Students might be able to customize their own education plans based on all of the courses completed that apply to a particular field. In fact, if MOOCs become more of an integral part of an education plan, credits could become less important. Instead, colleges could focus on how much work students have done in a particular field. Once enough coursework (and even practical application) has been completed, a degree would be awarded.

A Changing Paradigm

Education2Considering that we live in the information age, elements of data are being created at a greater rate than at any other point in time. Aggregation is one of the strongest tools that MOOCs bring to the table. In the near future, software could bring together different bits of information and aggregate it together into a single source for delivery to students. Lesson plans and lectures would be a thing of the past, since information would be produced in real-time. Instead of a rigid curriculum, students could learn from a number of sources and receive a truly well rounded education. And that’s the point here. This isn’t about transforming education for the sake of transformation. This is about making education more accessible and affordable to learners while ensuring that they learn what they need to know in order to be successful in the workforce and society.

What Do the Critics Say?

Critics often point to the fact that online programs permit students to enroll with little or no admissions standards. I maintain that many of these critics are those that are directly threatened by the MOOCs and the promise they hold for their own futures. If I’m the president of a traditional school and seeing my enrollment numbers dwindle because I’m against online learning, than naturally I’m going to be against MOOCs (or any other similar change). While admissions requirements have been important in the past, in the future everyone with an Internet connection will have access to higher education. If they need foundational courses, they will take them online just as they’ve done in the past. This is they way it should be. In fact, today virtually anyone can sign up for courses with EdX and other MOOC providers. That’s a good thing.

Critics also point to the completion rates of these courses. Because they are free, many people sign up for the courses and then fail to complete them. But consider this. If you have 50,000 people sign up for a course and only 5% complete all of the work, you still have 2,500 people that finished, right? How many traditional classrooms does it take to teach 2,500 people? And how many of those 2,500 people would have missed out on the chance to learn the material otherwise? Those in education that would argue against this type of success need to seriously consider a new field.

Education for Everyone

spring sunsetIn the future, with less stringent admissions criteria and much lower costs, students will be able to earn accredited certificates or degrees in record numbers. These individuals can take what they’ve learned to create new businesses or perform better in their own jobs while ultimately becoming lifelong learners. This in turn will hopefully prompt society to transform right along with them. I would argue that along with a more educated population comes a better society. And if we’re not working towards that objective, what the hell are we doing as a species anyway? Whether MOOCs will transform education remains to be seen. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. Regardless, they are a step in the right direction. They have successfully highlighted the need for change in higher education and perhaps more importantly, that individuals are seeking new learning options in today’s increasingly connected world.

Reference:

Dalal D, Brancati FL, & Sisson SD (2012). Factors affecting learner satisfaction with an internet-based curriculum. Southern medical journal, 105 (8), 387-91 PMID: 22864092

Mark Hochberg, J. (2006). Online Distance Education Pedagogy: Emulating the practice of global business Distance Education, 27 (1), 129-133 DOI: 10.1080/01587910600654841

Forster, A. (2012)., edited by E. Burge, C. Campbell Gibson , and T. Gibson
Distance Education, 33 (3), 429-436 DOI: 10.1080/01587919.2012.723169

StudyBlue Digital Flashcards [App Review]

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StudyBlue mobile app users are ahead of the game at this point. Students have used flashcards as a study aid since time immemorial. However, they no longer have to rely on these old-fashioned printed materials. The days of buying a pack of index cards are in the past. StudyBlue’s digital index cards are a much easier to work with option. Considering that so many people are already carrying around their mobile device, this can also save a lot of space.

One of the best things about the StudyBlue mobile app is that you can actually make online flashcards on the go. Of course, it’s great to be able to create and use flashcards on a desktop or laptop. In fact, some students will surely use the mobile app to access cards that they’ve created on another machine. However, the ability to create flashcards from anywhere through an iPhone, iPod or iPad is really invaluable. People who prefer to use Google Android devices won’t feel left out either. It’s free, so students can easily install it on more than one device without any issues about money.

Unlike most school materials, no one really goes around telling everyone that they need to use StudyBlue. That means that the students that use it have decided to do so of their own accord. Considering that over one million people have already decided to pick up StudyBlue, the software has essentially sold itself. Nevertheless, there’s nothing to suggest that teachers couldn’t use the software if they wished. In fact, they might end up creating flashcards for their own purposes. Even teachers have to familiarize themselves with the material after all, and this is a great way to save a lot of work and paper.

Depending on the configuration and the platform it runs on, StudyBlue can suggest other study materials. These are sometimes helpful, though users who are presented with them can naturally skip them if they’re uninterested. Since StudyBlue is a community, users should probably give a little bit of thought to what they’re uploading. On the other hand, this also means that they have access to other materials through the app and the site. That means that many people will be able to take advantage of all the other things that they can access on StudyBlue. This can actually speed up the learning process, especially for those who like to follow along with a lesson plan. Once again, teachers will surely consider this a useful feature.

How To Arrange Your Classroom

It’s well documented that students perform better in a learning environment when the physical and spatial elements of their classroom are well managed. Teachers can enhance learning opportunities just by organising the space inside a classroom, as well as eliminating problems that will cause low-level interruptions, and subsequently delays in teaching.

Set Up Different Areas
In order to get the highest levels of productivity, furniture should be arranged so it’s easier to do work. By setting up different sections of the classroom for different functions, it will be easier for students to know what type of work they should be doing.

For example, by making an area only for work, and filling it with tables and chairs, pupils will know what to expect when you focus your teaching there.

Make sure that the chairs are facing the direction that you’re teaching from, and that every student has a clear view of the board. This work area should be away from windows, doors and other distractions, and noise should be kept to a minimum.

Keep Things Clear
High areas of congestion should be kept clear, so the teacher can see everything that’s going on in the classroom. For example, the water fountain, teacher’s desk, bin and pencil sharpener should be dotted around different areas of the class, so not to focus traffic in one place.

If equipment and furniture isn’t looked after then you’ll find your budget getting a bit of a beating – why have a look at the latest designs in classroom storage from Innova Solutions.

There can be a lot of clutter in the classroom, especially when it comes to student’s coats, backpacks and lunch boxes. By providing the students with their own personal space, you’ll give them a sense of ownership as well as a place to keep tidy. Furthermore, by learning to keep their own space tidy, they can use these skills to keep the rest of the class environment tidy too.

Tidy Up
When an item or piece of equipment is used on a daily basis, it seems easier to keep it where you need it instead of where it belongs. By putting back equipment in its rightful place – as soon as you’re finished with it – will free up a lot more space and get rid of some unwanted clutter. Labels are a great way to provide an object with a specific space in the classroom too. Make the labels colourful, or better yet get the students to design their own labels.

Purchase clear, plastic containers so things are able to find if you need them. You can also get your class to bring in old shoe boxes or recognisable storage so they can keep all their work in one place. This will allow the equipment that isn’t used every day to be stored away and things that are used every day kept tidy.

Thinking Forward
Keeping things organised in the learning space can teach children to keep their own personal items organised at home. Organisation also promotes good time management skills which is always a desired attribute when it comes to describing yourself to a potential employer. If a teacher shows a class that they’re organised, keeping the class tidy will be an underlying theme through all aspects of daily activity.

About the author:This guest post was written by Zoe, who has written for a variety of blogs. She has written this post on behalf of Innova Solutions.  

EasyBib for Citing References [App Review]

Free App Download

In any given week, I may have multiple research papers that I’m working on for school/work. While I love the research/writing aspect, citing references has become the bane of my existence. Earlier this year, I found a service called EasyBib that has made my life much, much better. I thought I’d cover the company’s mobile app today. If you’re currently in college, I cannot recommend the service enough.

Easy Bib for the iPad

EasyBib is a great way to format citations, and it now comes in a format that’s perfect for iPad users. Of course, the original iPhone app is still supported. The app lets people scan the barcodes on printed material to instantly format citations. These citations can be emailed and exported to the EasyBib service.

This is perfect for anyone who is physically standing in a library while doing research. Those of you who take notes on their iOS mobile devices will be particularly pleased. It’s an easy way to go completely paperless with the research process. Some students like to take notes and make citations away from the classroom, and a large number of people don’t attend college in person any more.

Those using the EasyBib app can complete the entire process in the library, and return home with notes. You’ll be ready to write an essay, even if you are no longer able to access the materials you were using in the library. Reference materials are often unable to leave libraries, so researchers will certainly find this a valuable aid. Even if one is able to check out their books, using an iPad can speed up research. It can even save you from needing to use a notebook if you’re lucky.

The app also allows users to type in the names of books with the touch screen. That’s useful for anyone who is trying to cite older materials. Books printed before a certain date simply won’t carry barcodes. Typing in a title also works for those times when the code is obscured. While the app seems to be mostly focused on books for the time being, this shouldn’t be that much of a problem. A number of classes require the majority of citations to come from books, despite the fact that less and less professional research is being performed the old fashioned way.

The APA (American Psychological Association,) MLA (Modern Language Association, and Chicago styles are all supported. Most instructors except bibliography pages attached to academic research to be formatted in one of these three styles. A vast majority of students will find these options more than adequate for their needs.

Plenty of students already use the online version of EasyBib. Some of them might have paid accounts so that they can access a wider variety of citation types (I do because I typically use APA format). Regardless, you should certainly have a look at the site the next time you sit down at a desktop. The app is perfect for anyone who wants to format citations on the go. The barcode scanning function is something that most people wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Some users have had issues with the scanning function. I never have had an issue.

Teaching and Learning with ‘Lecture Tools’ [App Review]

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The first thing I noticed about Lecture Tools when testing this app is just how new this student response system is. Developmental support for the app is actually ongoing. Users don’t have to worry about new versions of iOS rendering the software obsolete. That’s caused problems with other student response services in the past, but Lecture Tools should be at least somewhat immune to these problems. In fact, the newest version of the software was already updated to work with mobile devices running iOS 6.

Lecture Tools lets students follow along with slides and videos that course instructors present in class. They can take notes and their notes will be automatically synchronized with the Lecture Tools site. Instructors who are really into this method of teaching can even leave questions for their students to answer or provide activities for them to do. The program will synchronize with the site whenever students do any work with the program.

Lecture Tools’ lineage is rather impressive. University of Michigan staff developed the program, and it’s currently distributed under license from that prestigious institution. Independent studies have actually shown that Lecture Tools increases student involvement in activity.

Large classrooms can especially cause problems for students. Many people don’t feel like they can connect with their instructors. These students might find a program like this easier to work with. Computer programs are a great way to visualize learning goals. They can also remind students of how much work is left to be done.

Some universities have developed their own apps as study aids, but this can be a huge waste of time. Application development can also be extremely expensive. Lecture Tools can more than likely fill the needs of most professors. Since it’s built on preexisting software, no one needs to go around developing his or her own programs. That also means less time will be wasted on teaching students to work with software.

Best of all, Lecture Tools also works with browser software on desktops and laptops. This means that some students could use the iOS app while others continue to use standalone machines. In fact, many people will probably want to use both the mobile and desktop versions of the software. Homework can be done at home, and students can then easily check it from their pockets. That makes class participation that much easier, and it might even get otherwise lackluster students to turn in their work on time.

Building Brain Power with ‘Brain Trainer’ [App Review]

  Free App Download

Brain Trainer by Luminosity is aimed at helping those who might not get a good mental workout each day. Crossword puzzles and trivia questions can provide a quick challenge, but they’re not nearly as focused as Brain Trainer’s various exercises. Those who easily get bored with puzzles will especially like this iPhone app, because it offers so many different mini-games. People who get tired of one game shouldn’t have to wait too long before they’re able to move onto the next.

Mental exercises have been mentioned a lot lately. Neurologists have suggested that certain brain conditions can be avoided or improved by regularly using the brain. For instance, thinking in different patterns can be very helpful. While many of these exercises seem easy, they’re different from what most people do on a regular basis.

When young students are in school, they’re performing certain mental tasks that people neglect later in life. Few people go around thinking about letters and numbers on a regular basis. Brain Trainer helps to encourage these thought patterns. It’s almost as though someone took a grade school classroom and challenged adults to pass the tests they left behind years before.

While Brain Trainer is essentially a free trial, the full version is still less expensive than many similar products. Handheld console video games offer a similar experience, but at a much higher price. That means that the price isn’t anything to balk at. People considering a more expensive package might want to take a look at Brain Trainer first. Those who carry their mobile device around more often than their gaming system will certainly benefit from the platform.

Adult learners can get a lot out of this app. Memory enhancement isn’t something that happens overnight, but Brain Trainer is a great way to start working on it. When people become sedentary thinkers, the development of brain cells starts to slow down. The term neurogenesis refers to the formation of nerve cells, and changing up one’s thought processes can enhance this process quite a bit. Developing new brain cells might sound hard, but it’s easy for those who work through the exercises Luminosity offers. Of course, anyone who wants to try this program needs to keep up his or her training on a regular basis. In that respect, it’s just like an aerobics program.

Distance Learning for Personal Enrichment

Online learning has been growing in scope and popular appeal for several years now.  The Internet has clearly provided a viable new venue for anyone interested in furthering their education.  Time, distance, and other commitments are no longer justifiable excuses for not achieving your educational goals.

However, distance learning has opened up another area for educational advancements that many people may innocently overlook.  Pursuing your life’s interests and passions, often referred to as personal enrichment, is an area that simply cries out for distance learning supplementation.  Any skill you want to learn, any talent you wish to cultivate, any knowledge you might want to acquire, can all be found with a few strokes on your keyboard.  Likewise, seeking out like-minded friends who share your passions is made easier through social networking sites and blogs devoted to your particular interests.

Have you always wanted to learn another language, simply for the sake of being satisfied with the accomplishment or to help fulfill your dreams of world travel?  Go to your favorite search engine and type in something like “online French lessons.”  You will pull up an amazing number of sites to look into that will get you started in your efforts to become bilingual. The Internet is the perfect medium for language courses. In some cases you might need to purchase a book or CD to supplement your efforts; in other cases you might just find everything you need right online.

Have you been longing to participate in a book club to share your love of reading a good book with other avid readers but just know you could never give up an entire evening once a week or even once a month to pursue this dream?  Or do you feel your particular favorite reading genre is just too quirky for you to ever hope to find enough readers with similar interests in your city or town?  Type “book clubs online” into your favorite search engine and browse through websites devoted to every imaginable genre of reading; you’re sure to find just the place for you.

Do you paint, write, or knit?  Are you an amateur photographer interested in improving your skills?  Are you a history buff intent on analyzing conspiracy theories of the Civil War?  Distance learning can tie you into a class or a complete course of study that will enable you to stoke that fire and thirst for knowledge of a subject just because it is of interest to you.  You will enjoy the added benefit of not having to restructure your family life, your job or your personal lifestyle to accommodate your newfound interests.

The great thing about distance learning for personal enrichment activities is that you can choose the level to which you want to commit yourself.  You may find classes offered through prestigious universities that come with an equally prestigious charge per credit.  You are just as likely to find a course offering at a minimal charge or even at no cost to you.  You can simply audit a class just to get an overview of a subject you’re interested in or you can devote time and money to deep diving into a subject to the extent that you become somewhat of an expert in your own right.  When you’re doing it for yourself, the choices and the commitments are yours alone.

Personal enrichment isn’t just about what distance learning and the Internet can do for you.  It can also be about what you can give back to the world around you.  Do you have a skill that could enrich the life of someone else?  Are you articulate enough to teach that skill to others?  If so, you may be able to find a distance learning platform to offer your skills to others.  Perhaps you can provide that knowledge through a personal blog dedicated to the subject you hold near and dear to your heart. You might even wish to create and facilitate online course through innovative training providers such as Ed2Go or WizIQ.

Personal enrichment is just that, personal and enriching.  It is the stuff inside of you that makes you interesting and interested in the world around you.  Just as distance learning has provided the means for aspiring students to fulfill their formal educational requirements, distance learning can provide any individual with an avenue for satisfying their soul.  So, the next time you find yourself wishing you could bake a beautiful birthday cake for your husband’s birthday instead of going to the expense of buying one, type “online cake decorating classes” into a search engine and you could be on your way this afternoon.

Using Dropbox in the Classroom [App Review]

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Dropbox is one of those apps that mean different things to different people. In this case it refers to a free service on iOS 4.0 and higher devices that allows people to trade different types of files. It lets users dump photos, documents and videos into the same repository that’s accessible from the Dropbox site. That means that desktop and mobile device users can interface with the same storage area and not have a single problem. Facebook, AirPrint, and Twitter users can also interface their accounts with the Dropbox app.

While this is all well and good for social networking users, the real power of Dropbox comes into play in the classroom. Students can use the program to securely submit assignments to their instructors. While they could also just use email, Dropbox provides a level of security and reliability that few email services can offer. Teachers could place lectures, videos and other objects in a Dropbox storage area. Students could then follow these lesson plans at their leisure.

Online distance learning is becoming a major industry. Virtual classrooms are usually built around complex software packages. This provides a platform that doesn’t have any real system requirements. Teachers could use the app on a regular Apple mobile device and students can access the classroom from whatever device they choose. Web interfaces are extremely flexible.

Students could theoretically write discussion posts and place them into a Dropbox folder that other students could view. Of course, one could just as easily set up a private folder for handing in tests. The software is easy to use, so training students shouldn’t cut into instructional time. Best of all, the Dropbox app doesn’t cost anything.

While the Dropbox service has paid service plans available, the basic service is free to use and that means that cash-strapped educators shouldn’t have any problem adding it to their phones. Since it can take a long time to rebuild lesson plans, some teachers might want to consider backing up their documents to the storage system as well. One could essentially use a private folder as a free offsite data backup service.

Additional Learning Resources: