"Passive learning is the least effective way to take away new knowledge. So why are passive-learning activities the vast majority of the grant proposals we get?" exclaimed an exasperated pharma panelist at a conference not long ago.
But are non-passive programs really better vehicles for learning? Doesn't the very term interactive send chills down the back of the adult learner who likes nothing better than to sit comfortably in a dark auditorium and listen to an expert in his or her field? And are the highly touted high-tech programs (video e-mails, webinar forums) any more effective at reaching physicians and changing their practices?
Much debate occurs regarding the value of various methods of education, and no one will argue the benefit of interactive, engaging, case-laden delivery with blended learning over a longitudinal period of time. There is, however, a place for all learning formats in effective education.
Commercial supporters considering CME offerings must determine if the educational goals and objectives outlined are achievable. The goals of a symposium to "describe, define, and identify" are generally achievable within the time frame and lecture format. A symposium program, however, is unlikely to enable the learner to achieve the higher-level objectives of "synthesize, evaluate, and analyze."
The Six Rs
A CME program should provoke a conscious and unconscious thought-process. For that to happen, content must attend to the principles of these Six Rs:
Reliable Information presented must be within the learner's domain and scope of practice, and validated through evidence-based sources.
Relevant Information must be marked by the learner as highly relevant and capable immediate and future utilization.
Ready Information must allow the learner to establish an allegiance with it and utilize it at the first opportunity.
Retention Information readily used is also more easily retained.
Rewards and Recognition Knowledge often results in (among other things) scoring high on self-assessment tests, being sought out among peers, receiving praise from grateful patients and their families, and belonging to a community of learners who are nurtured through the educational process.
Different Learners, Different Formats
For an effective program, the needs and characteristics of different learners must be taken into consideration. In the current environment, we have four generations of learners. Each has an educational foundation that is vastly different, and each has a preferred learning style.
Lectures Legacy learners, such as boomers and those older, are predominantly men, for whom lecture and text are the most familiar methods of learning.
Audio courses Podcasts and streaming audio have appeal for all four generations. Although listening courses are passive experiences with limited application to effect higher-order learning, they are effective if repeated. The expected outcome of audio courses is knowledge acquisition, demonstrated by the ability of the learner to recite, repeat, or describe what they've learned.
Interactive learning This method commonly involves an exchange between two or more participants. Audience-response systems represent the most basic form of interactive experience. Interactive learning includes: individual learning, such as self-study, whereby immediate feedback is provided after a decision/choice is made by the learner; group discussions; simulations; gaming exercises that provide correction/feedback; and dialogue between people where a purposeful objective is identified. Case-based learning is universally accepted as highly desirable interactive learning, whether for a novice or an expert.
Problem-solving experiences Vignettes, case records, and clinical dilemmas provide stimulating learning environments and include such higher-order learning activities as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The expected outcomes of these methods are behavioral change and improvement in patient outcomes.