As consultants and providers of learning technology to organizations that do CME (continuing medical education) and GME (graduate medical education), we’re often faced with this question: why is it so hard to get physicians to pay attention to (a given client’s) learning?

Physicians are, of course, graduates of medical school. They are generally board-certified and often employed in academia. They are, as a group, capable, self-directed learners. This is the crux of the issue. They have little time, they can usually find most information they need, and they often work at institutions that already provide free access to incredible information resources.

With a lot of competition for their information needs and with very little time to invest in it, physicians need to believe in the value of your learning experience before they will engage with it. Here are five tips for making that value proposition to physician learners.

Respect their time.

Content must be easy to digest quickly. Reading might be preferred to video because physicians can use their excellent skimming skills on it. When video is used, make sure it’s possible to play it at 1.5x or 2x speed. Never use the Articulate setting that forces the learner to listen to every second of voiceover.

Help them find the time to learn.

Micro-learning is the word here. You will get more uptake if physician learners can fit the learning experience into commutes, lunch breaks, and brief breaks between appointments and meetings. Mobile learning is a huge plus. Formats like podcasts and reading that is broken into chunks are a great way to do this. Formats that require attention to the learner’s eyes and ears at the same time—like video and narrated presentations—are harder to fit into busy days.

Let them choose their own path.

If physicians already know something, they want to be able to skip that content. If they find something valuable, they want to be able to learn more about it and test themselves. Offer digests and abstracts with links to delve deeper. Technology platforms should allow learners to bookmark, check off, and plan by telling them how long a chunk of content is. Give learners ways of checking their understanding, but make them optional.

Choose topics they need to know, but don’t.

In their clinical specialty, physicians know where to go to learn what they need to know, and if its not already you then you probably aren’t going to compete there. Topics should match your organization’s core competencies and brand, and should be in high demand among physicians. Maybe you know about grant writing, regulatory changes in Medicaid reimbursement, or how to improve recruitment. Whatever your topic, make sure your subject matter experts are credentialed and have a good reputation in the content area.

Connect your content to their work.

Physicians have plenty of sources of continuing education. They’re not motivated by the credit hour, they’re motivated by the applicability of the knowledge, skills, or techniques you’re teaching and the intrinsic interest of their profession. They want to provide better care, get more done in less time, and master their field. Your course should make the on-the-job value proposition up front, with techniques like quick testimonials, vignettes, and samples. Include job aids that physicians can take with them to the office.

If you’re interested in learning more, we recommend the recent book Continuing Professional Development in Medicine and Health Care. We reviewed it last year. 

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