An innovative outcomes-based medical education program built on adult learning principles

H. Patrick McNeil*, Chris S. Hughes, Susan M. Toohey, S. Bruce Dowton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


An innovative medical curriculum at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has been developed through a highly collaborative process aimed at building faculty ownership and ongoing sustainability. The result is a novel capability-based program that features early clinical experience and small-group teaching, which offers students considerable flexibility and achieves a high degree of alignment between graduate outcomes, learning activities and assessments. Graduate capabilities that focus student learning on generic outcomes are described (critical evaluation, reflection, communication and teamwork) along with traditional outcomes in biomedical science, social aspects, clinical performance and ethics. Each two-year phase promotes a distinctive learning process to support and develop autonomous learning across six years. The approaches emphasize important adult education themes: student autonomy; learning from experience; collaborative learning; and adult teacher-learner relationships. Teaching in each phase draws on stages of the human life cycle to provide an explicit organization for the vertical integration of knowledge and skills. A learning environment that values the social nature of learning is fostered through the program's design and assessment system, which supports interdisciplinary integration and rewards students who exhibit self-direction. Assessment incorporates criterion referencing, interdisciplinary examinations, a balance between continuous and barrier assessments, peer feedback and performance assessments of clinical competence. A portfolio examination in each phase, in which students submit evidence of reflection and achievement for each capability, ensures overall alignment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-534
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2006
Externally publishedYes


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