Observational Learning During Simulation-Based Training in Arthroscopy: Is It Useful to Novices?
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OBJECTIVE: Observing experts constitutes an important and common learning experience for surgical residents before operating under direct guidance. However, studies suggest that exclusively observing experts may induce suboptimal motor learning, and watching errors from non-experts performing simple motor tasks may generate better performance. We investigated whether observational learning is transferrable to arthroscopy learning using virtual reality (VR) simulation. SETTING/DESIGN: In our surgical simulation laboratory, we compared students learning basic skills on a VR arthroscopy simulator after watching an expert video demonstration of VR arthroscopy tasks or a non-expert video demonstration of the same tasks to a Control group without video demonstration. Ninety students in 3 observing groups (expert, non-expert, and Control) subsequently completed the same procedure on a VR arthroscopy simulator. We hypothesized the non-expert-watching group would outperform the expert-watching group, and both groups to outperform the Control group. We examined performance pretest, posttest, and 1 week later. PARTICIPANTS: Participants were recruited from the final year of medical school and the very early first year of surgical residency training programs (orthopaedic surgery, urology, plastic surgery, and general surgery) at Western University (Ontario, Canada). RESULTS: All participants improved their overall performance from pretest to retention (p < 0.001). At initial retention testing, non-expert-watching group outperformed the other groups in camera path length p < 0.05 and time to completion, p < 0.05, and both the expert/non-expert groups surpassed the Control group in camera path length (p < 0.05). CONCLUSION: We suggest that error-observation may contribute to skills improvement in the non-expert-watching group. Allowing novices to observe techniques/errors of other novices may assist internalization of specific movements/skills required for effective motor performances. This study highlights the potential effect of observational learning on surgical skills acquisition and offers preliminary evidence for peer-based practice (combined non-experts and experts) as a complementary surgical motor skills training strategy.