Research has shown that many CME programs fail to achieve sustained learning and a meaningful change in clinical decision-making and practice behaviour.
Why is this? The answer is not a simple one, but common problems include: (1) not identifying and focusing on important learning needs of the learner audience, (2) not effectively engaging participants in the learning process, and (3) not reinforcing new learning in a way that leads to its application in clinical practice.
Understanding Your Audience
Before attempting to develop an educational program on a particular disease topic, it’s important to have a solid understanding of your target audience in terms of their level of disease knowledge and alignment with current clinical practice guidelines. Most important, you also need to understand their existing clinical approach to diagnosing, treating and managing the disease with different patients in their practice.
In addition, it’s important to understand underlying physician attitudes in terms of the disease topic, especially the degree to which they see a need for them to change their existing clinical approach, and what major barriers that they believe exist that could potentially undermine their ability to do things differently.
Armed with these insights, you will then be able to better determine what your target audience needs and wants to learn? Unfortunately, many learning needs assessments continue to simply focus on identifying gaps in disease knowledge, and fail to provide the richness of understanding of the learner audience essential for development of CME programs that will effectively enable and result in a real change in practice behaviour.
A Focus on Edutainment
For the most part, family physicians believe they know all that they need to know to be clinically competent (even if this is not the case). Most are not interested in “going back to medical school”.
Many CME programs continue to emphasize traditional teaching methods, based on didactic instruction or lectures. While this may be an efficient way to communicate new clinical information, these are not an effective way to engage an adult learner. Instead, an increasing number of family physicians prefer journal clubs, small problem-based workshops, and online webinars as these are perceived as allowing for more interaction and discussion of clinical challenges with their colleagues … in short, a better use of their time.
However, one size doesn’t fit all. With limited time, in today’s busy life of a family physician, to devote to ongoing professional development, an increasing number are choosing to participate in self-study and/or self-directed CME/CPD programs delivered via the internet, especially those that emphasize case-based learning.
Bottom line is that it’s more than just about the educational content. Effective CME programs also need to be designed in a way that is highly engaging and interactive (we all learn better when we’re having fun).
Making it Stick
A final problem is a lot of what is learned is often not retained following their participation in the CME/CPD program, as well as not applied when they go back to managing real patients in their practice. As a result, it’s now widely recognized that reinforcement of new learning is an essential ingredient for program success.
The good news is that a number of innovative ways now exist for doing this, especially the use of individualized extended learning activities that can be delivered via the internet and take place immediately following the core learning event. Another plus is the extra time required for these reinforcement or applied learning activities is also eligible for additional study credits.
A final point
In summary, to maximize the return on your educational investment, it’s important that you focus on principles of applied adult learning, and not simply on achieving knowledge transfer. Effective CME programs are those that provide participants with relevant and useful educational content, packaged and delivered in a way that results in a highly engaging and enjoyable learning experience, and where new learning is reinforced using follow-up extended learning exercises to help prompt its retention and application into clinical practice.
If you don’t do it right, you’re wasting your time and money. We believe working with a physician organization that really knows how to do this is critical for success.
For a briefing on how we can help you to take your CME/CPD programs to a higher level, and get the most from your educational investment, please contact us.