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Theories & Methods

Thinking differently requires seeing differently.



Sociomaterial theories challenge the separation between human and non-human elements in everyday medical education. Paying attention to the impact of space, tools, and human bodies on educational activities helps us see the full complexity of teaching and learning.

Critical Theories

Critical theories provide lenses required for perceiving, critiquing, and changing power structures in everyday life, including medical education.  These structures exist beyond individual intentions and actions, and critical theories help us think differently about power in social structures, cultural norms, and assumptions. 

Educational Theories

Educational theories provide different frames for viewing educational problems from new vantage points. Theories can serve as practical tools for teasing apart complex tangles of factors in educational encounters. We can hone in on specific factors in teaching and learning, and explore solutions.

New Growth


Ethnography is the the study and systematic documentation of human cultures—including educational activities. Ethnographers rely heavily on observation. Observation involves watching, and often participating in, the culture one is studying. This usually means full immersion in the setting for a period of time.

Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical Discourse Analysis frames language as a social practice. CDA practitioners are interested in the ways that language, and non-linguistic actions, shape one another in every day life. They focus on issues of power, including power asymmetries and structural inequalities, and how they emerge through language and meaning.

Visual Methods

Visual methods are used to understand and interpret images. These methods, originating in anthropology and sociology, are relatively new in medical education research. Data collection formats can range from photo elicitation interviews (using photos to spark reflection during interviews) to photo voice (participants taking photos as data). 

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