Renate Kahlke



I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Centre for Health Education Scholarship (CHES). My research at CHES focuses on what I see as a gap between what learners in the health professions know and what they do in their professional or educational practice.  Learners believe or learn one thing, but they often often do something different when faced with the pressures and complexities of putting knowledge into practice “out there.” Others act on what they know or believe despite institutional or social barriers. In instructional design, this is called conative learning – learning associated with the will or ability to act on knowledge. This research engages with multiple bodies of knowledge and theory, and plays out in a variety of contexts.

Professionals’ Health Advocate role offers an example of one area where both learners and professionals struggle to enact their knowledge; by its very nature, advocacy requires that professionals “swim upstream” in order to overcome systemic barriers that limit access to high quality care. One of my current research projects looks at how medical trainees learn about advocacy in various contexts, including learning not to advocate. This research addresses the ways in which learning through socialization is often at odds with formal learning, and prevents learners and professionals from acting on their knowledge and beliefs about what’s best for their patients. Another study examines continuing professional development (CPD) and rural physicians’ willingness or intention to act on the various types of feedback that they receive when participating in a rural clinical coaching program. Physicians participating in CPD interventions frequently come up against social, systemic and cognitive barriers to enacting new knowledge, particularly since their practice contexts are often characterized by resistance to change.

Prior to my role at CHES, I completed a PhD at the University of Alberta in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. My dissertation explored how health professional educators construct unique and shared conceptions of “critical thinking,” within their various (and overlapping) personal and professional contexts. There is great confusion about what it means to “think critically” and individual educators espouse radically different understandings of critical thinking. My work shifts the academic focus away from developing one “right” definition of critical thinking in order to explore the multiple and flexible conceptions of critical thinking that exist both within and between professional groups. Differences in educators’ conceptions of critical thinking are not just semantic, but stem from the unique ways in which each educator makes sense of their experiences, and reflect a wide range of disciplinary traditions, normative assumptions, and values. Understanding these assumptions and values is key to understanding what educators see as important in their profession, and what “good thinking” might mean to them.

I have taken a qualitative methodological approach to most of my research, though I believe there is value in many different approaches. I was fortunate to train at the University of Alberta, which is home to the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology. This context allowed me access people, courses, and workshops that led to rich conversations and were influential in developing my interest in debates about methodological adherence versus flexibility, and the extent to which quality criteria can cross methodological boundaries (see Kahlke, 2016, 2014).

Current Research Interests:

  • Health professions education
  • Qualitative research methodologies/methods
  • Continuing professional development
  • Health advocacy
  • Interprofessional education
  • Activity theory
  • Higher education policy and institutional theory
  • Community service learning
  • E-learning and instructional technologies