Professor YouTube?  Investigating pharmacy students’ use of learning resources

By: Zachary McCalla, PharmD Candidate 2024 and Mary E. Fredrickson, PharmD, BCPS

In years gone by, a student’s main source of learning was via use of lecture notes and recommended course textbooks. Times have changed, and pharmacy students today have access to more learning resources than ever before—but are they all appropriate and effective? As they attempt to make sense of vast amounts of information within their curriculum, some students choose to seek out online resources to understand difficult-to-grasp concepts. Such resources may be appealing due to their accessibility, brevity, and easy-to-understand methods of explanation. Some of these learning tools also have the benefit of being more learner-centered and engaging via use of “fun in learning”, which involves instruction using games and similar strategies.1 Conversely, there are online resources that can be edited by individuals without much control of the information’s accuracy. This may result in students utilizing inaccurate, incomplete, or  outdated information. 

To date, there is a lack of research evaluating what resources pharmacy students preferentially use to prepare for exams and other assessments. To investigate this at our institution, we distributed a voluntary, anonymous, four-question survey to pharmacy students to attain a better understanding of the “non-scholarly” resources utilized. Thirty-nine students responded, and results are detailed below.

Survey results 

Question 1: Have you ever used learning resources such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Sketchy, social media, etc. to prepare for assessments such as exams, projects, or journal clubs? These would not include scholarly resources such as textbooks and journals.  

Question 2: What resources have you found to be the most helpful? 

Question 3: What resources have you found to be the least helpful? 

Question 4: What are your reasons for choosing to use these alternative types of resources? 

YouTube was the most popular resource cited. Students noted they want concepts explained in the simplest terms. They feel platforms like YouTube have mastered that, with the added benefit of providing this information quickly. Other common reasons students gave for using these resources included ease of access and free cost.

How should pharmacy educators approach the use of learning resources? 

While our preliminary data is limited in generalizability, it provides an important starting point into what resources pharmacy students are choosing to rely on for learning. This topic is especially pertinent today. Students have large quantities of information at their fingertips, and virtual learning has exploded in popularity. 

Our results echo those of similar studies. Judd et al. found on average, medical students used Wikipedia and general search engines (such as Google) almost daily, while using other academic resources less often.2 There were some exceptions, but overall, results showed these students preferentially used non-curriculum recommended resources over those recommended and provided by the teaching institution.2 Within the student self-reported study, the quality and reliability of resources were ranked on scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “very low” and five indicating “very high”. Results found the resources most utilized (Wikipedia and general search engines), had the lowest quality and reliability rankings.2 

Recommended course resources are oftentimes expensive and/or difficult to access for students. Additionally, these types of resources may be viewed as cumbersome or complicated. In contrast, most of our respondents noted they prefer resources that are “free, quick, and simple.” Unfortunately, those characteristics don’t always translate into resources that are accurate or beneficial. Students need to pay attention to factors such as who created the resource, what references are cited, and when the material was last updated. Ensuring they know information at any appropriate depth is almost essential. 

It is important for pharmacy educators to be familiar with the most popular learning resources used by their students to keep in touch with their educational needs.1 Faculty can then provide guidance on which tools are the most appropriate and assist students with assessing their quality.1 Faculty teaching within a certain course or content area could determine a few preferable, applicable educational tools and share those with students. Faculty could potentially learn from and gain instructional ideas from well-developed resources as well. The implementation of quality social media and online resources has the potential to support student learning. According to Clauson et al, 75% of first year pharmacy students surveyed amongst multiple pharmacy schools responded that integration of social media into their curriculum would have a positive/very positive impact on their education.3 

Additional insight needed  

Research that more widely investigates student use of learning resources, for both didactic and experiential training, would benefit both pharmacy educators and students. Such research could distinguish between resources used when learning new material and those used when studying for tests or board exams. A review and ranking of the best resources would be beneficial for students seeking out these types of study aids.

What learning resources are utilized by pharmacy students at your institution?


1. Wynter L, Burgess A, Kalman E, Heron JE, Bleasel J. Medical students: what educational resources are they using?. BMC Med Educ. 2019;19(1):36. Published 2019 Jan 25. doi:10.1186/s12909-019-1462-9

2. Judd T, Elliott K. Selection and Use of Online Learning Resources by First-Year Medical Students: Cross-Sectional Study. JMIR Med Educ. 2017;3(2): e17. doi:10.2196/mededu.7382

3. Clauson KA, Singh-Franco D, Sircar-Ramsewak F, Joseph S, Sandars J. Social media use and educational preferences among first-year pharmacy students. Teach Learn Med. 2013;25(2):122-128. doi:10.1080/10401334.2013.770742

Author Bio(s):

Zachary McCalla is a P3 Pharmacy student at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Zach completed his undergraduate coursework at Kent State University and has academic interests in research related to pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. On his time off he enjoys going for hikes with his dog, Lola Lynn.

Liz Fredrickson is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Her educational scholarship interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning and research related to compounding and skills-based education. In her free time, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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