Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1113–1121 | Cite as

A literature review on observational learning for medical motor skills and anesthesia teaching



Motor skill practice is very important to improve performance of medical procedures and could be enhanced by observational practice. Observational learning could be particularly important in the medical field considering that patients’ safety prevails over students’ training. The mechanism of observational learning is based on the mirror neuron system, originally discovered in the monkey pre-motor cortex. Today we know that humans have a similar system, and its role is to understand and reproduce the observed actions of others. Many studies conclude that humans are able to plan and to make movements based on visual information by mapping a representation of observed actions, especially when the motor system is committed to do it. Moreover most researchers considered observational learning effective for complex skills, such as medical procedures. Additionally, observational learning could play a relevant role during anesthesia training since the learner works in pairs most of the time (dyad practice). Some teaching approaches should be taken into consideration: an implicit engagement of the observer motor system is required, immediate feedback seems to have an important effect, and a combination of observational and physical practice could be better than physical practice alone. In an environment where effectiveness and efficacy are essential, observational learning seems to fit well.


Observational learning Dyad practice Motor skills Medical procedures Anesthesia 



This article was initially a paper course for the Master of Science in Health Science Education program at Mc Master University. Later, the article was reviewed and edited by the second author prior to submission for publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Master of Sciences in Health Sciences Education (in Progress)McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Anesthesia DepartmentMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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