1. January 2024


A-POPS Encourages Team-Learning to Solve Clinical Problems

By Mark A. Simmons, PhD

Five exercises from the Patient Oriented Problem-Solving (POPS) in Pharmacology are now available as an online learning tool, the A-POPS. This unique, online system includes extensive analytics, student performance metrics and ease of scheduling. To assist students in learning through the A-POPS, the instructor groups students by four. Within a group, each student is assigned one of four unique License Keys for their role as either Student 1, Student 2, Student 3, or Student 4.

The POPS is a series of exercises consisting of simulations of clinical problems. Available as sets of PDFs, the POPS are organized and distributed by the instructor who runs the group sessions. The exercises are designed for small group meeting sessions to supplement the teaching of pharmacology to first- or second-year students in the health professions.

A-POPS ONLINE, Pharmacology Workshops 1.0—ASPET Patient-Oriented Problem-Solving (A-POPS) Workshops for Applied Pharmacology

The new automated A-POPS streamlines the POPS process, eliminating the need for scheduling breakout rooms and distributing handouts. The system automatically records and scores student responses on the pretest, posttest, and group quiz. The system also provides instructors with survey data regarding the group’s performance and student evaluations of the exercise.

Before the group meeting, students complete a pretest and review the assigned learning objectives. During the group meeting, the students proceed through the four episodes, finishing with a Group Pop Quiz. After the group meeting, students complete a posttest individually.

ASPET partnered with DeckChair Learning Systems, Inc. to develop the A-POPS. The five A-POPS workshops that are available, include “Treatment of Essential Hypertension,” “Therapy of Diabetes Mellitus,” “Drug Treatment of Heart Failure,” “Pharmacokinetics Applied to the Treatment of Asthma,” and “Chemotherapeutic Challenges (Antimicrobials).”

The workshops require the students to collaborate to formulate effective solutions to clinical problems using peer to-peer learning. With the A-POPS, students can meet face to-face or virtually, allowing the workshops to be completed anytime, anywhere, online.

A-POPS Online Values and Advantages

The A-POPS not only presents the text but also guides the students as a group through the pharmacology-centered cases consisting of a series of clinical scenarios. Each student is given the opportunity to serve as a leader while facilitating the discussion of a clinical scenario.

Each student takes a turn leading the group discussion to solve the problems posed during the four clinical episodes of the workshop. During each episode, only the leader has the information related to that episode. They must effectively communicate the details of the clinical scenario to their colleagues and guide the discussion about the case.

The A-POPS provide a structured format for student directed (peer-to-peer teaching) learning of topics in pharmacology. The POPS are written by pharmacologists and have been peer reviewed by both a basic scientist and a clinician. The exercises are consistent with the ASPET/Association of Medical School Pharmacology Chairs Pharmacology Knowledge Objectives and address accreditation standards. They are updated regularly and include consideration of diversity, equity and inclusion in both content, development and interprofessional learning.

This brief video provides an overview of the A-POPS, workshop outlines and learning objectives.

The United Nations marks International Day of Education annually on January 24, focusing on making education accessible to everyone. A-POPS exercises break down barriers and transform pharmacology education by harnessing the value of collaborative learning. This is important for pharmacology education because real-life scenarios demand team analysis and decision making. By matching students in groups, educators are able to maximize inclusive and quality education.

The A-POPS workshops are available to the entire pharmacology community, i.e. not restricted to ASPET members. The exercises are available for sale, either one exercise at a time or as a package of five exercises at a considerable discount (less than $6 per student, per exercise).

Watch ASPET’s Focus on Pharmacology webinar on the A-POPS system.


  • Mark A. Simmons, PhD

    Dr. Mark Simmons teaches pharmacology at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). Prior to joining UMES, he was on the faculty at Northeast Ohio Medical University and Kent State University and, prior to that, at Marshall University School of Medicine. The focus of Dr. Simmons’ research is on the molecular, cellular, and behavioral actions of drugs that affect the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

    Simmons, PhD Mark A.