The Use of Personal Digital Assistants as Tools for Work-Based Learning in Clinical Internships

Summer, 2011

Source: Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 43, No. 4, p. 325–341 (Summer, 2011).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores the potential value of mobile technologies in supporting work-based learning.

The authors describe a small exploratory study that they conducted in health care education in which medical students work in hospital practice.
The authors consider the potential value of mobile devices in the context of internships of co-assistants in clinical practice.

The authors used multiple research methods.
First, the authors interviewed two clinical experts and one co-assistant of the Medical Faculty of Utrecht University.
Then, the authors asked 12 co-assistants to complete a questionnaire.
Finally, the authors set up a pilot with five co-assistants to explore how they would actually use a PDA for these various activities when they were provided to them without any restrictions or obligations regarding use.


The results reveal that co-assistants in both the survey and the pilot are most positive about the potential role of the PDA in searching for clinical information, such as reference books, guidelines or protocols, and rules of thumb.

Furthermore, the co-assistants are positive, to a somewhat lesser extent, about the potential role of a PDA for taking notes, such as keeping track of what they need to do, writing down questions from patients and colleagues, and noting personal reflections during work.

However, most co-assistants do not see the PDA as a valuable tool for communicating with others.

With respect to the potential use of a PDA, the authors conclude that there are perceived possibilities, but the actual use requires changing working routines.

Besides physically integrating the variety of tools used, the authors see two ways a PDA can make a real difference to current work-based learning processes.
First, PDA can turn current work-based learning processes during work into a more situated responsive and reflective process.

Second, a PDA, with its capabilities to log actions, save notes, and record data, could be used for revisiting co-assistants’ questions, reflections, and recordings. It can thereby also enhance work-based learning outside of the work context.

Based on their findings, the authors propose organizing interventions in which students use mobile devices as boundary objects between college and work.
This requires the involvement of teachers and workplace supervisors, commitment in changing working routines, and an attempt to turn internships into periods of and bases for work-based learning.

Updated: Oct. 24, 2012