Improving Continuing Education

I am inspired by a recent podcast episode of Akimbo, from Seth Godin – titled Systems Thinking. The topic can push us to think more deeply about the industries we work in and how we can improve them.

Systems thinking is basically identifying how parts are connected.

You don’t necessarily have to create the system; there are many systems in place already. The question is what can you learn about the system(s) to help you create more value for the audience you seek to serve?

A way to apply this idea is seen with Jim Collins’ Flywheel effect. Here we see a cumulative process – drip by drip, step by step, with a bias for action, and it all adds up to create effective results.

Taking the lens of continuing education for health care professionals, here are the pieces of the system:

  • Accreditation organizations (those who approve accreditors and those who accredit programs/education providers)
  • Speakers
  • Learners

Part of the idea of a system is that if one of these components is removed, the system would not exist.

Without learners, there would be no one to educate. Without speakers (or SME), there would be no one who teaches, etc.

[I’ll carve out continuing professional development and self directed learning for now but we’ll cover that in a future blog post. At least for pharmacists, we are required to take accredited courses for those “hours” to count towards annual requirements.]

Bringing back the Flywheel Effect, you can focus improvement on what you want the system to look like and build changes in one part, while knowing how it’ll affect the rest of the system. It is important to remember your changes depend on how each part fits with the other parts.

You can improve the quality of your speaker(s), but if the type of learning for attendees doesn’t match what learners are looking for, then you will see limited improvement in the system. If one thing moves, they should all move.

One area I’m most interested in developing further is changing the types of learners (and disciplines) who are attending meetings. Many conferences implicitly promote silos as they are created for one discipline and are primarily didactic lectures.

One way to combat this while looking at the system is to create more interdisciplinary conferences with interactive sessions and create ways to bring the content back to where attendees work (their own organization). Changes include adding different disciplines, different types of speakers who are engaging and maximize how to promote participation. Lastly, the education provider would need to provide accreditation for all the disciplines who attend. Potentially, one organization could do this but more than likely (and preferably), a collaboration of groups is what you would see.

It’s a new way forward, using the current system, and making small changes, course by course, to create a more effective way to improving continuing education.

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash


I have three assumptions to note:

  1. Accreditation is required to provide education to health care professionals
  2. What’s it for – continuing education is to help maintain competencies and expand on knowledge to improve patient care. What’s it sometimes for – meeting mandatory requirements.
  3. I’m starting a deep dive on systems thinking and the ideas here are subject to change…in fact, they probably will.

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