I saw the Barbie Movie last week with my family. I am a Ryan Gosling fan (and generally a fan of silly movies) so I expected to enjoy it quite a bit and I did.
The biggest laugh in our house came when the primary mother-daughter duo in the movie were deciding if they could embark on a fantastic journey or not. The daughter asked “Will dad be okay?” and we then saw her father, for the first time ever, 100% absorbed in his phone learning Spanish with the Duolingo app. We burst out laughing because our whole family is using the app currently to try to learn Spanish together, and the visual felt really familiar.
If you’re not up on Duolingo, you’re missing out. It’s a fantastic app that teaches languages, but the desire to learn a second language isn’t what has made me so excited about Duolingo. It’s the WAY it guides people to learn.
When I took Spanish in college, it was a ton of reading from the textbook and memorizing vocabulary lists. The learning was tedious and relied heavily on rote memorization. In Duolingo, learners are taught small packets of information and then put to work using it in a variety of ways. Learners do matching drills, listening drills, speaking drills and writing drills.
Challenges are presented in fun and different ways over and over. New information is introduced steadily to raise the complexity to a level that will challenge each individual learner.
Never once when I took Spanish classes was I excited to actually try to communicate in the real world. Now I use every opportunity to talk to my dog in español and my wife helped someone at the DMV using Spanish yesterday! We’re still high fiving.
Look, I know this is ridiculous and you didn’t sign up for these newsletters to get sales pitches for Duolingo (They are not a sponsor of any of my work, but if they’re reading this, Me gusto Duolingo mucho!). So why am I talking about it? I’m talking about the app because this is how adult learning happens and veterinary medicine generally stinks at it.
Think about the way we do continuing education. We are still anchored firmly in lecture formats. Most of us physically go to an improvised classroom, generally in a hotel, and sit in the dark for 8 consecutive hours while an instructor talks at us. Who thinks that this is an effective way for people to learn new information that is to be applied to practice?
Don’t get me wrong here. Sometimes a lecture is the most efficient way to share information, but I don’t think any of us actually think your average learner is retaining a meaningful amount of information presented in the 5th hour of a 6-hour CE day. Most of us are brain-soup at that point.
Fortunately there are signs that education in veterinary medicine is changing. We have seen a steady increase in the use of case-based learning in veterinary schools for the last 2 decades or so, and one benefit of the creation of new veterinary colleges is that they seem to be attempting innovative ways of teaching and training. Just last month, Penn Vet was launching an “immense” transformation in the way they will be teaching and that the class of 2026 will be the first to experience “the school’s fully integrated competency-based veterinary education curriculum.” I absolutely love this revolution in how we teach and train, and am committed to pushing the transition towards active learning forward.
When I started the Uncharted Veterinary Conference with my team in 2017, we called it “the conference that never ends” because of our emphasis on interconnecting live events with ongoing online learning and social interaction. We capped the number of attendees at 120 to make sure discussion and collaboration would be central to the conference experience and leaned heavily into running workshops over lectures. We focused on making and showcasing educational content that solved problems and pushed the learner to create plans for what she or he would actually do.
In 2019, we introduced our “Choose Your Own Adventure” format where attendees would create approximately 40% of the conference program after their arrival. This approach ensured that the sessions we put on were what our learners needed and wanted right then, at that moment. We began training facilitators alongside speakers and lecturers so that we could challenge our guests in a variety of ways. We started practicing the art of making discussions action-oriented and impactful with stated action items coming at the end of the session… and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at it.
This week at VMX, the Uncharted Leadership Essentials Certificate got a lot of spotlight and love. We have partnered with Vetfolio to deliver the best guidance we have found in 7 years of running Uncharted for people who are leading or managing others. The sessions were filmed with a live audience so that the energy is great, the laughs are real, and any obvious questions got answered along the way. I love this certificate because it lets me teach the things I think people need the most, and deliver it on their phone, whenever they want, in bite-sized pieces. We also did some serious work to add optional journaling exercises with self reflection questions, and group discussion questions to help individuals and teams implement what they are learning into their clinics.
Now, Uncharted is continuing to push the envelope in how we train and learn. You can expect to see more games (we call them “challenges”) and gamification in both our virtual and live programs. We will be running live events across the country this year, and we are introducing our “learning cohorts” so groups can work through content at their own pace with a mixture of on-demand and live virtual interactive sessions.
Never before have we been able to push people to grow and develop in so many different ways. Never before have we had so many opportunities to challenge people to actually use the skills they are learning as they go. As I think about where I want to go personally and where I want Uncharted to go in 2024, these opportunities are what inspire me the most.
Now, I’ve got to check in on Duolingo. I’ve got a top spot on the leaderboard, and I plan to keep it… by learning more stuff.