Assessing trainee critical thinking skills using a novel interactive online learning tool

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Medical education online








Critical thinking; assessment; malaria; medical education; online learning


BACKGROUND: Critical thinking is essential for the accurate diagnosis and management of patients. It is correlated with academic success. OBJECTIVE: Our objective was to design a novel tool for interactive online learning to improve knowledge and to assess trainees' critical thinking skills using the framework of the American Philosophical Association (APA). METHODS: Residents, fellows and students participated in an online, self-directed case-based vignette activity to learn malaria diagnosis and management. Pre and post-tests with multiple choice and open-ended case-based questions assessed knowledge and critical thinking. Comparison between pre and post-test scores across subgroups were performed using paired t-tests or one-way ANOVA. RESULTS: Between 4 April 2017 to 14 July 2019, 62 of 75 (82%) eligible subjects completed both the pre and the post-test. Improved post-test scores occurred in 90% of medical students, p=0.001, 77% of residents, p<0.001, 60% of fellows, p=0.72 and 75% of trainees overall, p=<0.001. Fellows had higher pre-test scores than students or residents but there was no difference by level of training on the post-test. CONCLUSIONS: This interactive online learning activity effectively imparted medical knowledge and improved trainee responses to questions requiring critical thinking. To our knowledge, this is the first time the APA's critical thinking framework has been incorporated into interactive online learning and assessment of critical thinking skills in medical trainees. We applied this innovation specifically in global health education, but there is obvious potential to expand it to a wide variety of areas of clinical training.