PURPOSE: To examine the role of classroom-based learning in graduate medical education through the lens of academic half days (AHDs) by exploring residents' perceptions of AHDs' purpose and relevance and the effectiveness of teaching and learning in AHDs.
METHOD: The authors invited a total of 186 residents in three programs (internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, and hematology) at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine to participate in semistructured focus groups from October 2010 to February 2011. Verbatim transcripts of the interviews underwent inductive analysis.
RESULTS: Twenty-seven residents across the three programs volunteered to participate. Two major findings emerged. Purpose and relevance of AHDs: Residents believed that AHDs are primarily for knowledge acquisition and should complement clinical learning. Classroom learning facilitated consolidation of clinical experiences with expert clinical reasoning. Social aspects of AHDs were highly valued as an important secondary purpose. Perceived effectiveness of teaching and learning: Case-based teaching engaged residents in critical thinking; active learning was valued. Knowledge retention was considered suboptimal. Perspectives on the concept of AHDs as "protected time" varied in the three programs.
CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that (1) engagement in classroom learning occurs through participation in clinically oriented discussions that highlight expert reasoning processes; (2) formal classroom teaching, which focuses on knowledge acquisition, can enhance informal learning occurring during clinical activity; and (3) social aspects of AHDs, including their role in creating communities of practice in residency programs and in professional identity formation, are an important, underappreciated asset for residency programs.