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This article is the author’s final published version in Academic Medicine, Volume 97, Issue 8, August 2022, Pages 1137 - 1143.

The published version is available at Copyright © Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.


In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, where clinical environments are plagued by both uncertainty and complexity, the importance of the informal and social aspects of learning among health care teams cannot be exaggerated. While there have been attempts to better understand the nuances of informal learning in the clinical environment through descriptions of the tacit or hidden curriculum, incidental learning in medical education has only been partially captured in the research. Understood through concepts borrowed from the Cynefin conceptual framework for sensemaking, the early stages of the pandemic immersed clinical teams in complex and chaotic situations where there was no immediately apparent relationship between cause and effect. Health care teams had to act quickly amidst the chaos: they had to first act, make sense of, and respond with intentionality. Informal and incidental learning (IIL) emerged as a byproduct of acting with the tools and knowledge available in the moment. To integrate the informal, sometimes haphazard nature of emergence among health care teams, educators require an understanding of IIL. This understanding can help medical educators prepare health professions learners for the cognitive dissonance that accompanies uncertainty in clinical practice. The authors introduce IIL as an explanatory framework to describe how teams navigate complexity in the clinical learning environment and to better inform curricular development for health professions training that prepares learners for uncertainty. While further research in IIL is needed to illuminate tacit knowledge that makes learning explicit for all audiences in the health professions, there are opportunities to cultivate learners' skills in formal curricula through various learning interventions to prime them for IIL when they enter complex clinical learning environments.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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