Background: The small group setting has proved beneficial for learning (Lou et al., 2001). Furthermore, the reasoning process is a goal in itself within an interpersonal view of learning (Crook, 2010). In medical education the use of virtual patients (VPs) has emerged as a method to train clinical reasoning which implies an increased interest for peer collaboration. The VPs are however often used individually in a self-study manner. One study reports 94% individual use (Fall et al., 2005).The aim of this study is to gain knowledge about how students perceive collaboration using VPs and the reasons for individual or collaborative VP work.
Summary of work: Students worked with four VPs during clinical clerkship in Rheumatology. All students during one semester (n=30) were asked to fill in a questionnaire concerning collaborative VP work. Questionnaire responses were analysed thematically (Braun and Clarke, 2006).
Summary of results: Twenty-nine students (97%) answered the questionnaire. 62% of the students worked individually with the virtual patients, 24% both individually and collaboratively, and 14% only in the collaborative setting. All of those working in the collaboratively stated learning reasons for doing so. Almost all (94%) of the reasons for working individually were of practical character. Those working in both settings stated both practical and learning reasons for doing so.
Conclusions: Students clearly see educational benefits of working collaboratively with VPs. However, for practical reasons collaborative case work seems often to give way to the individual self-study approach.
Take-home messages: Practical opportunities should be arranged for in order to benefit from collaborative learning when using VPs.