Best Practices in DIL: Directed Independent Learning

Thanks to Dr. Lindsay Davidson, Director of UG Teaching, Learning and Innovation for writing this blog article.

Have you ever wondered about the mysterious learning event type used in the undergraduate MD program known as a DIL?

You may even have your name associated with such an event but be unsure what you’re supposed to do with it? If so, this blog posting is for you. We’ll tell you about how to create “blue ribbon” DILs.  DIL is short form for “Directed Independent Learning” (although some students have nicknamed the sessions “Do It Later”).

blue ribbon DIL

First some background. Previously, our curriculum was almost entirely taught using large class lectures. Over the past decade, prompted by educational research, best practices and accreditation standards, we have shifted towards more active forms of classroom case-based learning. These sessions are preceded by required student preparation. Initial attempts to ‘protect’ curricular time to allow these independent study activities were foiled by the introduction of new curricular learning events. This led to the strategy of formally protecting curricular time for student preparation – and the “directed independent learning” (or DIL) learning event was born.

Originally intended as simple ‘placeholders’, directed independent learning events are now formally defined as scheduled curricular sessions associated with a course, with the goal of allowing specific student preparation prior to a companion classroom learning event. Put another way, DIL sessions are one component of a flipped classroom blended learning model.  In fact, they are literally another “teaching opportunity” for you.  These sessions are different than the 8 hours of freeform independent learning time built into the student week – this is intended for student-directed inquiry around personal learning goals, observerships, research or community based-projects.

Directed independent learning sessions, in their ideal form, are an excellent format to help students scaffold learning. The concept of scaffolding is very evocative – implying the application of a supportive structure to facilitate learning with the understanding that over time the scaffolding can be withdrawn. Scaffolding can involve a variety of instructional techniques such as providing a reading guide, fill-in-the-blank worksheet or graphic organizer to complete. When done well, scaffolding helps students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition than they would without help.

Some examples of scaffolding appropriate for a DIL include:

·      Develop a table or algorithm to compare different conditions from the same presentation

·      Check for understanding with quiz questions

·      Provide a reading guide to help students perceive the critical pieces of a longer reading, and direct them to key understandings and concepts

Marie Leung, a student in MEDS 2015, conducted an audit of DIL sessions in 2013. She determined that these comprise 13% of all structured pre-clerkship curricular time.  Of these, 39% included text-based readings, 25% online modules and 19% audio-visual instruction. She also noted that 5% of DIL sessions included no identified resources. Subsequent student focus groups identified six problems with certain DIL sessions:

1.     No details

2.     Lack of objectives

3.     No resources

4.     Too many resources

5.     No opportunity for self- assessment

6.     Stand-alone resource (i.e. not linked to subsequent session)

Additionally, students identified five best practices when designing a DIL. These include:

1.Be directed and purposeful – use learning objectives and provide focused, carefully selected readings

2.Give instructions and/or guides to reading or viewing.

3.Encourage students to produce a deliverable – worksheet, comparison tables, etc

4.Allow opportunities for students to assess their learning – self-administered quizzes

5.Connect directed independent learning sessions to in class sessions which are opportunity to debrief, clarify, apply, reinforce.

We encourage all teachers to strive to meet these guidelines. Please contact our educational development team if you require assistance constructing an effective DIL learning event – or