Jason Hine, MD

“I heard it in a podcast”

How to navigate learners’ use of non-traditional learning platforms


It is no secret that non-traditional learning platforms such as blogs and podcasts are becoming more popular among learners. This article will help guide you with a 3-step approach to the trainee who brings up such material.


Rather than leaf through a textbook, many current trainees will open their favorite RSS feed or podcast app to find study material. In fact, Mallin et al. found that listening to podcasts outranked textbook reading as the preferred form of study among emergency medicine residents (35% vs 33.6%).1 Regardless of your stance on blogs/podcasts, it is important to recognize that they are here and a part of our learners’ knowledge acquisition.

A trainee’s use of non-traditional learning platforms often comes to light while in our clinical work, with phrases such as “I heard X in a podcast” or “I read about Y in a blog and I would like to try it.” These statements can be off-putting, and our reflexive response is sometimes dismissive or condemning. This reaction often stems from one of the following:

  • Lack of familiarity with the podcast/blog
  • Lack of understanding in the topic matter
  • Lack of comfort implementing practice change based on non-traditional resources

When we go with our knee-jerk reaction of dismissal, we invalidate the learner and their efforts, and miss an opportunity to teach them about the use of these non-traditional materials. We must recognize what is before us: a motivated student, doing independent learning, is asking us about practical application of new medical knowledge. Our response, ideally, is structured and supportive. With this 3-step approach, it can be.

Step 1: Validation

First, it is important to recognize the independent learning of the trainee and commend them for their application of this clinically.

Example: “That is so awesome you are finding time outside of your busy medical student/resident life to study independently! Even more kudos for trying to apply that to patient care. Awesome work!”

Step 2: Structured critique

Similar to how journal club teaches trainees how to critique an article, we should be offering the same skill set on how to assess a blog or podcast. Structured approaches exist, and I recommend that published by Academic Life in Emergency Medicine. This assessment is a 5-element approach to assessing a blog/podcast’s quality (ALIEM Scoring Instrument).

Example: “I’m not familiar with that specific blog/podcast. Just like the articles we review in journal club, it’s important to have a structured approach to critiquing these pieces. Luckily, someone has created an assessment tool to help us. Why don’t you send me the material and I’ll send to assessment tool. We can then look at the material, appraise it with the tool, and reconvene on how to apply it to our clinical practice.”

Step 3: Wrapping It Up

After you and the student have done some independent learning, it is important to close the loop. This, too, can be done asynchronously if time is an issue. In this conversation topics to address include:

  • Issues with the use of the assessment tool
  • Questions regarding the individual blog/podcast’s quality
  • Content review
  • Clinical application

Example: “Thanks for bringing that podcast on stress testing to my attention. I thought it did well in 4 of the five areas in the assessment tool. The one area I had reservations was that it seemed to have a lot of expert opinion and less literature citation. We always have to be cautious there. How do you think this will affect your clinical practice?”


With some premeditation and structure, these challenging interactions can be turned very rewarding for both learner and teacher. For more information on learners’ views on blogs and podcasts, look at Independent and Interwoven.3



  1. Mallin M, Schlein S, Doctor S, Stroud S, Dawson M, Fix M. A survey of the current utilization of asynchronous education among emergency medicine residents in the United States. Acad Med. 2014 Apr;89(4):598-601.
  2. https://www.aliem.com/aliem-air-pro/
  3. Riddell J, Robins L, Brown A, Sherbino J, Lin M, Ilgen JS. Independent and Interwoven: A Qualitative Exploration of Residents’ Experiences with Educational Podcasts. Acad Med. 2019 Sep 10.
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