Answer to "How can student difficulties with learning be supported?"


A complex range of factors are associated with students presenting with difficulties in learning.   Learning difficulties cannot be simply addressed by specific training in study skills. Co-existing personal, psychological, social or professional issues also have to be addressed.


  • Students with psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, should be supported to manage or obtain appropriate treatment before attending to difficulties with their learning.


  • Students with difficulties in learning may have an undiagnosed specific learning disabilities,such as dyslexia, and late presentation may only become apparent after a transition,  such as progressing from one part of the course to another. Supporting students with these disabilities usually requires referral for additional specialist support.


  • Many students who experience difficulty across the continuum of medical education have poor self-regulated learning behaviours, causing problems with their ability to learn or study as well as to effectively perform at assessments.  Specific support to develop effective self-regulated learning behaviours may be required.


  • The instructional design of educational activities for students with difficulties in learning should be based on principles of deliberate practice, with a specific focus on developing accurate mental models for what good performance ‘looks like’ in the student’s mind before, during and after completing the task.


  • Student support of students with difficulties in learning should move beyond only a facilitated recall about  the level of performance towards addressing the essential components required for the development of lifelong learning :   the repertoire of learning skills for academic and clinical performance,  the effective use of self-regulated learning behaviours and the motivational aspects related to learning.  Many students in difficulty have lowered motivation due to repeated lowered performance and a strengths –based approach to support is advised to build self-confidence in their abilities.




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Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112

Hauer, K. E., Ciccone, A., Henzel, T. R., Katsufrakis, P., Miller, S. H., Norcross, W. A. & Irby, D. M. (2009). Remediation of the deficiencies of physicians across the continuum from medical school to practice: a thematic review of the literature. Academic Medicine, 84(12), 1822-1832.

Patel, R., Tarrant, C., Bonas, S., Yates, J., & Sandars, J. (2015). The struggling student: a thematic analysis from the self-regulated learning perspective. Medical Education, 49(4), 417-426