Background: Despite a paucity of evidence to support a multitude of educational innovations, curricular leaders are pressured to find innovative solutions to better prepare medical students for an evolving twenty-first century health care system. As part of this effort, this study directly compared student-rated effectiveness scores of six different learning modalities. Methods: Study participants included 286 medical students enrolled in the second-year rheumatology core at a single academic medical center between 2013 and 2017. Students were surveyed at the end of the core with a 15-item questionnaire, and student perceived effectiveness of six different learning modalities were compared. Results: The modality that outperformed all others was Live Patient Encounters (LPE), with significantly higher student-rated effectiveness scores when compared to the referent modality of Problem-Based Learning (PBL). Using a 5-point Likert scale with responses ranging from "not effective" to "highly effective," LPE received a mean effectiveness score of 4.77 followed by Augenblick (4.21), PBL (4.11), Gout Racer video game (3.49), Rheumatology Remedy e-module (3.49), and simulation knee injection (3.09). Conclusions: Technologically advanced novel learning strategies were outperformed in this study by the more traditional active learning modality of LPE. This finding highlights the importance of testing innovative learning strategies at the level of the learner. Three additional conclusions can be drawn from this result. First, conflation of technology with innovation may lead to a myopic view of educational reform. Second, human factors seem to be responsible for the success of LPE and may have far-reaching educational rewards. Third, further applications of LPE should be tested in non-rheumatologic curricula. The relevance of this study is innately tied to the humanities-based application. While a formal qualitative analysis was not performed in this study, preliminary results suggest that live, structured patient interactions in the pre-clinical years of medical education may not only promote the learning of important educational objectives but also foster professional development, empathy, reflection, leadership, agency, and interpersonal skills. This "win-win" scenario (if true) would stand out as a rarity among strategic educational initiatives.
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