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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Jonathan Tummons

Macleod, A., Kits, O., Whelan, E., Fournier, C., Wilson, K., Power, G., Mann, K., Tummons, J. & Brown, A. (2015). Sociomateriality: A Theoretical Framework for Studying Distributed Medical Education. Academic Medicine 90(11): 1451-1456.

Author(s) from Durham


Distributed medical education (DME) is a type of distance learning in which students participate in medical education from diverse geographic locations using Web conferencing, videoconferencing, e-learning, and similar tools. DME is becoming increasingly widespread in North America and around the world.

Although relatively new to medical education, distance learning has a long history in the broader field of education and a related body of literature that speaks to the importance of engaging in rigorous and theoretically informed studies of distance learning. The existing DME literature is helpful, but it has been largely descriptive and lacks a critical "lens"-that is, a theoretical perspective from which to rigorously conceptualize and interrogate DME's social (relationships, people) and material (technologies, tools) aspects.

The authors describe DME and theories about distance learning and show that such theories focus on social, pedagogical, and cognitive considerations without adequately taking into account material factors. They address this gap by proposing sociomateriality as a theoretical framework allowing researchers and educators to study DME and (1) understand and consider previously obscured actors, infrastructure, and other factors that, on the surface, seem unrelated and even unimportant; (2) see clearly how the social and material components of learning are intertwined in fluid, messy, and often uncertain ways; and (3) perhaps think differently, even in ways that disrupt traditional approaches, as they explore DME. The authors conclude that DME brings with it substantial investments of social and material resources, and therefore needs careful study, using approaches that embrace its complexity.