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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 191-193

Active involvement in dental education and the way to meaningful knowledge: The viewpoint of a dental educator

Department of Adult Restorative Dentistry, Oman Dental College, Muscat, Oman; Department of Restorative Dentistry, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland, UK

Date of Submission05-May-2022
Date of Acceptance07-May-2022
Date of Web Publication22-Aug-2022

Correspondence Address:
Abubaker Qutieshat
Department of Adult Restorative Dentistry, Oman Dental College, Muscat; Department of Restorative Dentistry, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdrr.jdrr_70_22

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While learning in clinical dental practice is a rich, complex phenomenon with the goal of producing a clinically capable dentist, dental education is based on the premise that students can develop into professionals. This short communication focuses on two of the main principles of learning: meaningful knowledge and active learning, as both are key precursors to other higher-level learning activities and have relatively straightforward and well-understood underpinning theories. This work also makes a number of assumptions to make clinical dental teaching more effective. The present work highlights that the underlying purpose of dental education goes beyond imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes; it is also about developing a sense of identity. The dental curriculum must prepare students for the roles they will occupy in the future and guide them to become well-rounded clinicians as well as lifelong learners.

Keywords: Active learning, dental education, meaningful knowledge, self-directed learning

How to cite this article:
Qutieshat A. Active involvement in dental education and the way to meaningful knowledge: The viewpoint of a dental educator. J Dent Res Rev 2022;9:191-3

How to cite this URL:
Qutieshat A. Active involvement in dental education and the way to meaningful knowledge: The viewpoint of a dental educator. J Dent Res Rev [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 28];9:191-3. Available from: https://www.jdrr.org/text.asp?2022/9/2/191/354209

  Introduction Top

Learning is an extremely complex process that requires the study of learning theory, pedagogy, and psychology. Despite the fact that we know very little about the human mind, we have a massive amount of research and common sense at our disposal to better understand the learning phenomenon. It is normal for students to feel like their brains are “blank” when they do not learn anything from a lecture. They would argue that the lecture is not worth listening to and that it is not meaningful. Often, students wish they could do something about it or at least become more involved than simply sitting there passively.

Learners' needs and expectations drive education, and learners are not passive recipients of information; rather, they are active knowledge builders. Adult learners will be more interested in learning if they can see a reason or benefit for doing so, and they will put in more time and effort for the sake of learning. Because not all adult learners have a clear idea of why they are learning, it is important to think of reasons that might be good for them to fully immerse themselves in the learning mode.

  The Way to Meaningful Knowledge Top

New learning material content is best introduced by first establishing in the minds of learners the framework required to effectively and efficiently absorb the upcoming concepts into their cognitive capabilities. This content must then be delivered by preparing learners for the new information they will receive, making the content meaningful and familiar to provide both motivation and desire to learn.[1] This is accomplished by introducing the fundamental concepts of the new material, allowing learners to organize the more specific and detailed information that will follow. This is also accomplished by encouraging learners to apply the new learning material to real-world scenarios through the provision of meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal and future goals. As a result, the entire learning process will be more integrated and meaningful.

Several theories have supported meaningful knowledge as a principle, including situated learning, reflective practice, Ausubel's meaningful reception learning, and schema theory.[2],[3],[4] Situated learning provides a solid foundation for making an experience more meaningful, as well as an integrative theoretical perspective that validates new approaches and achieves the goal of efficiently preparing learners as members of the dental profession.[5] This will be accomplished, in turn, by allowing dental students to contribute to patient care in a meaningful activity early in their course, which will allow them to fully develop their personal and professional character as a well-rounded dentist (i.e., reflective practice).

Throughout their careers, dentists are required to reflect on their practice and show insight by responding correctly to their own self-reflection. The ability to recognize one's own strengths and flaws are essential for professional growth, especially when tackling a skill or area that is perceived as difficult. In our dental school, we refer to the ability to critically reflect on one's own actions as a “fundamental” competence. Self-reflection helps us to better understand our own thinking and learning; to identify and question our underlying values and beliefs; to understand our strengths and weaknesses; to identify and question our personal limitations or areas for improvement; and to identify and question our own values and beliefs.

According to Ausubel's theory, learning material must be meaningful to knowledge receivers and relevant to what they already know.[2] Schema theory extends Ausubel's theory by identifying additional relationships that aid in the meaning of new knowledge; it is hypothesized that there is a mental structure for representing generic concepts stored in memory.[3] Both of these theories envision cognitive structure growth as a result of a process of subsumption or assimilation. The combination of these two theories is a central component in student-centered active learning, in which mental models of whatever is being learned are constructed, tested consciously and deliberately to see if they work, and then repaired if they appear to be faulty. Students who learn in this manner are more likely to achieve meaningful learning. Active, meaningful learning thus includes: (a) Facilitating the learner's active construction of meaning, (b) acknowledging that learning facts differs from learning how to do something, and (c) understanding that some clinical skills learned in one domain or context can be transferred to another if the learner is aware of what is going on in the learning process. This active learning elaboration allows for reflection and a better understanding.

  Toward an Active Learning Environment Top

Adult learners typically dominate the learning process because they regard themselves as self-directed individuals (Knowles, 1990).[6] Systematic learning implies a strict environment for many learners in which they have limited if any, contribution to the learning process. A limitation like this can reduce learners' motivation and willingness to learn. Allowing learners to become primary members and key contributors in the course of learning, on the other hand, will increase their motivation and likely increase their chances of obtaining the desired skill and knowledge. The ideal scenario would be for learners to contribute and participate in the development and design of the training program's outline. Nonetheless, it is important to note that a very personalized outline may not be possible for a large group of people or even for a single training session.

Knowing the learners' learning needs to achieve the course's aims and objectives, as well as their perspective on the best way to plan and deliver the material content, can help in constructing and designing the curriculum outline. The expected level of self-direction varies by the learner. While some will prefer a completely self-directed approach, others will prefer no self-direction at all.[7]

Self-directed learning can be aided by the use of learning modules, which allows a large group of learners to be divided into smaller groups (i.e., breakout sessions). This will allow learners to interact with their tutor on a more personal level through closed discussions, focus groups, and case studies, giving them a satisfying sense of control over the learning process. It is critical to assess the level of control that learners believed they had and the level of improvement they achieved during their course. The assessment criteria include assessing the learner's amount of input and level of control over the learning material, assessing the tutor's role throughout the course, and weighting the learner's participation against the ideal advised level of control.

The teaching method adopted in our school is influenced by the theory of “self-directed learning.”[4] It is regarded as a method of coordinating learning and teaching in such a way that learning responsibilities are largely under the control of the person receiving education. This, in turn, can be viewed as a goal that learners strive for to commit to taking responsibility for their independence, self-determination, and self-learning.

Around 100 self-direction characteristics have been identified in the literature, including creativity, ambition, liability, confidence, self-awareness, skilfulness, thoughtfulness, knowledge, openness, curiosity, and self-awareness.[4] To improve self-directed learning and bring out the potential of the aforementioned characteristics to be effective for our learners, they must be given the opportunity to gain several skills while also having enough room to maneuver and apply these skills. To name a few, skills include the ability to diagnose one's own weaknesses, critical appraisal of new content, and reflection on one's own progress.

Ideally, educators should benefit from a wide range of principles and the theories that underpin them by putting theory into practice. As an example of a commonly encountered scenario in dental education, 1st-year students, referred to colloquially as “freshers,” are typically assigned theoretical basic sciences as an integral part of the course curriculum, from which a solid core of knowledge is to be gained, which will be applied in the clinical years later on in the process. Unfortunately, most learners will automatically categorize such topics as dull, complicated, and irrelevant. Unless the tutor explicitly emphasizes the importance of such knowledge, this is an unavoidable subsequence. This is where our role as tutors comes in, to present the content of the learning material to learners in a meaningful way rather than leaving it to them to discover on their own. This can be accomplished by relating new content to real-life scenarios as much as possible (i.e., diseases, treatments, and patient care).

A similar approach would be to provide learners with material content by uploading it online ahead of the lecture or session to allow them to participate in the process. Early in the course, it is also critical to mutually plan learning aims and objectives to explain why a particular topic is important as a building block onto which a backbone of knowledge can be constructed and where more advanced basic and applied sciences can be added later. As a result, new content in a learning resource will be more easily delivered by tutors and received by learners.

Dental education is about more than just imparting knowledge, skills, and attitudes; it is also about developing a professional identity. Learners must be aware of their future job responsibilities as well as how to be professional and successful in dealing with and treating patients. To achieve this, we, as dental educators, must prepare our students for the professional roles they will occupy in the future and strive to develop professionals who are competent, self-aware, and capable of self-monitoring and self-assessing their performance as well as continuing the journey of learning throughout their practice lifetime.

As one might expect in any dental school, students must have a satisfactory professional demeanor. Many dentists, however, complained that the way in which they were taught to develop their professional character as well-rounded dentists were frequently superficial, with a shortlist of ideal values and actions that could have been developed with more depth of thought and dedication. With incoming students being more “person-centered” than “patient-centered,” the former teaching strategy may be insufficient in light of generational transitions. The underlying goal of teaching professionalism is to assist students in developing their persona. As a result, the goal of education should be broadened to include the development of a professional identity.

Students are also influenced by teachers' attitudes and feedback. When a student receives negative feedback following a bad performance, they are more likely to suffer from long-term psychological harm. The manner in which feedback is offered to students may not reflect educators' grasp of the learning curve in developing clinical skills and integrating dental information.[8] The success of formative assessment depends on how students comprehend and respond to feedback. This includes both their emotional condition and their personal tendencies.

As a result, students naturally focus on what is being tested, which is mostly procedural skills rather than human qualities. Dental students rapidly discover the parts of the program that are most beneficial to them when it comes to securing a “pass” grade. Nonetheless, educators have an essential but difficult task of helping students build their identity to be good dentists. The development process of students' identities, therefore, necessitates an awareness of all the components that influence this process. Improving the learning environment in clinics and classrooms is crucial in helping students develop their professional identities and become “better” dentists.

“What we want is a better class of better dentists, because the world is, I believe, suffering from a lack of good dental service more than from any bodily ailment of which we have any knowledge.”

William J. Gies, 1924[9]

According to Gagné, a key theorist and contributor to the field, theories cannot easily explain learning;[10] however, the wide range of learning theories available to us as educators, even if they do not fully explain the learning process per se, is an invaluable source from which we can extract a significant number of teaching principles and skills that will fine-tune our characters as educators.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Swanson RA, Law BD. Whole-part-whole learning model. Perform Improv Q 1993;6:43-53.  Back to cited text no. 1
Ausubel DP. The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning. New York: Grune and Stratton; 1963.  Back to cited text no. 2
Anderson JR, Crawford J. Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. San Francisco: WH Freeman; 1980.  Back to cited text no. 3
Kaufman DM. Teaching and learning in medical education: How theory can inform practice. In: Understanding Medical Education: Evidence, Theory, and Practice. Ed. Swanwick T. Association for the Study of Medical Education; 2018. p. 37-69.  Back to cited text no. 4
Mann K, Gordon J, MacLeod A. Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: A systematic review. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract 2009;14:595-621.  Back to cited text no. 5
Knowles M. The Adult Learners: A Neglected Species. Houstan: Gulf Publishing Co.; 1990.  Back to cited text no. 6
Ricotta DN, Richards JB, Atkins KM, Hayes MM, McOwen K, Soffler MI, et al. Self-directed learning in medical education: Training for a lifetime of discovery. Teach Learn Med 2021. p. 1-11.  Back to cited text no. 7
Qutieshat AS. Assessment of dental clinical simulation skills: Recommendations for implementation. J Dent Res Rev 2018;5:116.  Back to cited text no. 8
  [Full text]  
Gies WJ. A further discussion of some problems in dental education. J Am Dent Assoc (1922) 1924;11:1107-24.  Back to cited text no. 9
Gagne RM. The Conditions of Learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1970.  Back to cited text no. 10


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