Learning is optimised when postgraduate trainees engage in clinical tasks in their zone of proximal development (ZPD). However, workplace learning environments impose additional non‐learning goals and additional tasks that may lead to trainees engaging in tasks that do not fall within their ZPD. We do not fully understand how trainees select clinical tasks in the workplace learning environment. If we knew the goals and factors they consider when selecting a task, we could better equip trainees with strategies to select tasks that maximise learning. We explored how postgraduate trainees select clinical tasks using echocardiography interpretation as a model.
Canadian General Cardiology residents and Echocardiography fellows were invited to participate in semi‐structured interviews. Aligning with a theory‐informed study, two independent researchers used a deductive, directed content analysis approach to identify codes and themes.
Eleven trainees from seven Canadian universities participated (PGY4 = 4, PGY5 = 3, PGY6 = 1 and echocardiography fellows = 3). Goals included learning content, fulfilling assessment criteria and contributing to clinical demands. Trainees switched between goals throughout the day, as it was too effortful for them to engage in tasks within their ZPD at all times. When trainees had sufficient mental effort available, they selected higher complexity tasks that could advance learning content. When available mental effort was low, trainees selected less complex tasks that fulfilled numerically based assessment goals or contributed to clinical demands. Trainees predominantly used perceived complexity of the echocardiogram as a factor to select tasks to achieve their desired goals.
Postgraduate trainees select tasks within their ZPD that enable them to maximise learning when they perceive to have sufficient mental effort available and workplace affordances are adequate. These findings can inform individual and systemic strategies to maximise learning when selecting tasks.