Before your very eyes: The value and limitations of eye tracking in medical education

Ellen M. Kok, H.M. Jarodzka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review



Medicine is a highly visual discipline. Physicians from many specialties constantly use visual information in diagnosis and treatment. However, they are often unable to explain how they use this information. Consequently, it is unclear how to train medical students in this visual processing. Eye tracking is a research technique that may offer answers to these open questions, as it enables researchers to investigate such visual processes directly by measuring eye movements. This may help researchers understand the processes that support or hinder a particular learning outcome.


In this article, we clarify the value and limitations of eye tracking for medical education researchers. For example, eye tracking can clarify how experience with medical images mediates diagnostic performance and how students engage with learning materials. Furthermore, eye tracking can also be used directly for training purposes by displaying eye movements of experts in medical images.


Eye movements reflect cognitive processes, but cognitive processes cannot be directly inferred from eye‐tracking data. In order to interpret eye‐tracking data properly, theoretical models must always be the basis for designing experiments as well as for analysing and interpreting eye‐tracking data. The interpretation of eye‐tracking data is further supported by sound experimental design and methodological triangulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-122
Number of pages9
JournalMedical Education
Issue number1
Early online date16 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017



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