The Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge: Next-generation education

- By Tracie White

Norbert von der Groeben Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge

The Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge features the latest technology for medical training, including its ground-level mock hospital environment.

Jasmaine Williams, the first student to show up to her anatomy lecture, pulled an iPad and iPhone out of her backpack, plugged into one of the outlets that accompany every padded chair in the brand-new semi-circular lecture room with tiered seating, and took a moment to switch her brain from the morning’s genomics lecture to the afternoon’s discussion of the structure and functions of the scapular muscle.

“I love the new building,” she said, as the lecture room in the new Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge filled up with fellow medical students, half of them dressed in scrubs, half in jeans and flip-flops.

Williams, 21, a master’s student in the cancer biology program, explained why she’s a fan of the LKSC, the new hub of medical education at Stanford that was dedicated Sept. 29. “I’ve never seen any building that really tries to incorporate all the different ways of learning,” she said. “It’s pioneering for medical education.”

Pioneering and versatile are the key words for the new 120,000-square-foot building, from the ground level’s mock hospital environment to the fourth-floor student-only living area. The medical school spent eight years designing the center to be a launching pad for a new era in medical education, featuring adaptable classrooms that can be configured into different types of learning spaces as well as having more than 100 high-definition cameras that can capture and transfer instantaneous images from anywhere to anywhere in the building.

“The LKSC is designed for flexible education,” said Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school, during a recent think tank session at the medical school designed to examine current weaknesses in medical education and create solutions. “The building fits really well with the ideas of reforming medical education.”

The LKSC is intended to be first and foremost for students; that commitment can be seen in the stunning vista of the Santa Cruz Mountains that students get from the balcony outside the fourth-floor Berg Student Commons and from the second- and third-floor classrooms. Pizzo chose to situate his own offices on the side facing the hospital so that the students would have the most attractive views.

More important is the versatility the building offers students for learning. Williams explained how she regularly studies on the fourth floor in reserved-study rooms where she can draw notes on giant whiteboards, take photos of her sketches with her iPhone and then look them up later in class. During live lectures she focuses on the professor, but then watches the lecture a second time later at night on her computer, while annotating the lecture notes on her iPad. “There’s a lot of different ways to study,” she said. “There’s a million different combinations.”

Norbert von der Groeben Student on treadmill at LKSC


A medical student can happily spend from dawn until dusk in the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, which was designed to be one of the most advanced centers for medical education in the world. Within its walls, students on a typical day will not only benefit from a comfortable environment conducive to learning, but also encounter a variety of programs that take advantage of revolutionary changes in how learning is developed, shared and applied. 

The entire building is set up so that it can adapt to the school’s curriculum as it changes — now and in the future. The first-floor studio classroom can go from a traditional lecture format to a set-up that emphasizes team-based learning activities, with students grouped around small tables while being mentored by faculty. The 350-person conference room on the second floor can be a tiered lecture hall with stadium-style seating, with the capability in the future of webcasting its proceedings around the globe; it can be divided into smaller conference rooms with chairs and 5-foot rectangular tables; and it can be transformed into a dining room that allows participants in a conference to have discussions after a lecture o

The $9 million of audiovisual equipment and high-end wiring systems, including the ubiquitous high-definition cameras, can be used for an endless number of creative teaching techniques, such as transferring images of a training session with lifelike mannequins in the basement up to the conference center on the second floor, or eventually for instantaneous broadcast on the web. “The building enables change at a time when we have calls for reform in medical education,” said Jenn Stringer, director of educational technology. “We have technology growing at an enormous rate. And we have huge interest from faculty who want to make the learning experience memorable for students and enable them to continue to learn throughout their careers.”

The new building is the first step in addressing the issue of how to keep passionate new medical students engaged throughout their many years of education as they prepare to enter a problem-plagued medical system, said Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean for medical education. “You bring in these very highly motivated, compassionate individuals who want to save the world,” he said. “We want to make sure they maintain that real passion.”

The dean has set the course at Stanford to start plans for revamping the current structure of medical education, emphasizing the need to re-examine the philosophy and format behind much of modern-day physician training. “With the centennial anniversary of the Flexner Report, which set the stage for the education models that still exist in many programs, it is clearly time to think about the future,” Pizzo wrote in the Sept. 13 issue of his newsletter, referring to the 1910 publication of the report.

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Philip Pizzo

The LKSC building will foster these future reforms, administrators say. Exactly how this will be achieved in years to come is still to be mapped out, but the new hub for the medical center helps make it possible to combine a variety of techniques as steps along the way: It provides ample room for the use of “standardized patients” — actors playing the role of patient — as well as encouraging professors to bring real patients into their classes to talk about their symptoms, their diagnoses and their lives. At the same time, the building also houses state-of-the-art technology that allows for medical simulation training — and sets aside space to install new technologies to accommodate advances in this field.

The LKSC is designed to bring all these techniques together into one giant interactive laboratory.

“We surely have built as much flexibility as humanly possible,” said David Gaba, MD, associate dean for immersive and simulation-based learning, referring to the center’s 28,000-square-foot Hon Mai and Joseph Goodman Center for Simulation and Immersive Learning, a world-class center that is one of the largest and most comprehensive facilities of its kind. “It will be the basis for innovation and creativity by faculty who have yet to develop many of the applications and activities that will take place in the building.”

Indeed, the simulation center is a playground for creativity. It’s a fully simulated hospital, complete with an operating room, emergency room and scrub rooms. Ten exams rooms, designed to mimic real life down to the boxes of plastic gloves on the wall and the containers of cotton balls on the counter, are used for standardized-patient training on the same floor.

And already instructors are combining the two training elements. For example, a standardized patient may suffer some setback while being examined. The student will then move on to the simulation experience and work on a programmed mannequin to try to treat whatever is causing those symptoms.

“It’s a world-class facility that has the most advanced audiovisual system anywhere, which offers many opportunities,” Gaba said.

During the first few weeks of class, medical students had already made the new building their home. They had completed case studies in the simulation center on the ground level. They had quickly acclimated to the fourth-floor lounge, transforming it into their study, living and relaxation space, playing ping-pong, holding movie night, working out in the fitness room, studying and dozing in the couches. And the once-empty hallways on the first floor are now bustling with footsteps of students off to courses, such as the molecular foundations of medicine and gross anatomy.

“The trapezius muscle attaches to the clavicle,” lectured John Gosling, MD, professor of anatomy who has the rapt attention of Williams and her fellow students. The professor unbuttoned the top of his shirt to point to his clavicle. On the giant screen at the front of the class, he sketched in digital ink just where the trapezius attaches to the clavicle; the students drew similar lines on the same image that appeared on their iPads. “Now raise your hand,” he said, and everyone’s hand in the lecture hall went up. “Get your arm 180 degrees above your head. If all the muscle fibers contract, the consequence is a rotating scapula.” He smiled. “You’re all on video. This should be quite entertaining.”

And the class laughed.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

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