Learning in context: Identifying gaps in research on the transfer of medical communication skills to the clinical workplace

Valerie van den Eertwegh*, Sandra van Dulmen, Jan van Dalen, Albert J. J. A. Scherpbier, Cees P. M. van der Vleuten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: In order to reduce the inconsistencies of findings and the apparent low transfer of communication skills from training to medical practice, this narrative review identifies some main gaps in research on medical communication skills training and presents insights from theories on learning and transfer to broaden the view for future research. Methods: Relevant literature was identified using Pubmed, GoogleScholar, Cochrane database, and Web of Science; and analyzed using an iterative procedure. Results: Research findings on the effectiveness of medical communication training still show inconsistencies and variability. Contemporary theories on learning based on a constructivist paradigm offer the following insights: acquisition of knowledge and skills should be viewed as an ongoing process of exchange between the learner and his environment, so called lifelong learning. This process can neither be atomized nor separated from the context in which it occurs. Four contemporary approaches are presented as examples. Conclusion: The following shift in focus for future research is proposed: beyond isolated single factor effectiveness studies toward constructivist, non-reductionistic studies integrating the context. Practice implications: Future research should investigate how constructivist approaches can be used in the medical context to increase effective learning and transition of communication skills.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-192
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • Communication skills
  • Constructivism
  • Effectiveness
  • Learning
  • Narrative review
  • Transfer
  • Transition
  • Training

Cite this