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Self-regulation is essential for professional development. It involves monitoring of performance, identifying domains for improvement, undertaking learning activities, applying newly learned knowledge and skills and self-assessing performance. Since self-assessment alone is ineffective in identifying weaknesses, learners should seek external feedback too. Externally regulated educational interventions, like reflection, learning portfolios, assessments and progress meetings, are increasingly used to scaffold self-regulation.
The aim of this study is to explore how postgraduate trainees regulate their learning in the workplace, how external regulation promotes self-regulation and which elements facilitate or impede self-regulation and learning.
In a qualitative study with a phenomenologic approach we interviewed first- and third-year GP trainees from two universities in the Netherlands. Twenty-one verbatim transcripts were coded. Through iterative discussion the researchers agreed on the interpretation of the data and saturation was reached.
Trainees used a short and a long self-regulation loop. The short loop took one week at most and was focused on problems that were easy to resolve and needed minor learning activities. The long loop was focused on complex or recurring problems needing multiple and planned longitudinal learning activities. External assessments and formal training affected the long but not the short loop. The supervisor had a facilitating role in both loops. Self-confidence was used to gauge competence.Elements influencing self-regulation were classified into three dimensions: personal (strong motivation to become a good doctor), interpersonal (stimulation from others) and contextual (organizational and educational features).
Trainees did purposefully self-regulate their learning. Learning in the short loop may not be visible to others. Trainees should be encouraged to actively seek and use external feedback in both loops. An important question for further research is which educational interventions might be used to scaffold learning in the short loop. Investing in supervisor quality remains important, since they are close to trainee learning in both loops.