Maximizing your CE experience
To make the most of continuing education (CE)
sessions, try these research-based tips:
Assess your learning needs. Make sure you
think about the skills you need and choose CE
accordingly, says Susan J. Simonian, PhD, a past
chair of APA’s Continuing Education Committee.
If you need a new skill, choose a beginning
workshop. If you want to enhance existing skills,
pick an intermediate or advanced workshop.
Don’t just think about content as you choose a
workshop; also consider whether the format will
facilitate your learning.
Be prepared. “Come into a workshop with an
expectation of what you’d like to get out of it and
be disciplined about pursuing that,” advises Greg
J. Neimeyer, PhD, who directs APA’s Office of
Continuing Education. If you’re not getting what
you want, ask questions so that the presenter can
tailor the presentation to your needs.
Go for deep-level reasoning. “Sometimes we
go, sit and take notes and leave, but that’s not the
best approach in terms of accelerating learning,”
says Simonian. Instead, she says, think about
how you’ll transfer what you’ve learned to your
own work setting once you leave the classroom.
Don’t just focus on the what, where and how of
what you’re learning. “Think about applications
and exceptions to the rule,” she says. “Try to
engage the presenters in that dialogue.” Don’t
pass up opportunities to ask questions and
request additional illustrations or examples.
See fellow participants as sources of learning.
You shouldn’t just learn from the presenter, says
Neimeyer. “Recognize that in any workshop,
people are coming from very different walks of
life,” he says. “Take advantage of that diversity by
interacting with other participants to get a sense
of the range of applications.”
Participate. Don’t just sit there, Neimeyer
emphasizes. “All the literature shows that
the greater your participation, the better your
learning and translation of that learning into
Provide feedback. Sharing what worked — and
what didn’t — with the presenter helps improve
CE over time, says Neimeyer. “That’s a critical
way that psychologists can maximize both their
benefit from and contribution to new learning,”
—REBECCA A. CLAY
data and ongoing Web-based seminars. They also received
report cards that evaluated how each practice was doing
compared to others regionally and nationally. And they
received best practices algorithms, checklists, pocket cards
and other tools designed to remind cardiologists to follow
The intervention’s goals were to show the cardiologists
where they needed to improve and how to develop those
competencies, says Andersen. “You believe you’re delivering
evidence-based care, but until you’re actually evaluated on
that and receive a profile about what your adherence is, you
don’t know,” he says.
This approach to ongoing professional development is
effective, researchers studying Improve HF confirmed. In a
paper published in Circulation in 2010, the researchers found
that the intervention produced significant improvements
in five of the seven quality measures: the use of aldosterone
antagonist, cardiac resynchronization therapy, implantable
cardioverter-defibillator, beta-blocker and patient education.
At the two-year follow-up, practices were providing
evidence-based, guideline-recommended care 80 percent of
the time, compared with just 68 percent at baseline.
New CE for psychologists
Now psychology is beginning to follow suit by working to
ensure that CE means something more than just clocking
“It’s not sufficient to document to the public that we
sat in a chair for 20 hours,” says Neimeyer. “We have to
demonstrate that when we get out of the chair, we have
something to show for it that translates into what we do
differently in the workplace setting.”
Although some of the earliest and best theories of
learning come out of psychology, says Neimeyer, the irony is
that the profession hasn’t always applied those theories to its
own CE offerings.
When assessing CE, he points out, psychology often
looks at the most basic outcomes, such as participation,
participant satisfaction and self-reported and objective
measures of declarative learning. Less common are
assessments focused on what really matters: whether
participants know how to apply new knowledge, whether
they integrate that knowledge into their practices and
whether that integration improves client outcomes.
CE for psychologists is already changing as a result of the
growing evidence about what works. In 2012, APA created a
working group to advise its Continuing Education Committee
on how to improve the association’s CE offerings. The group’s
first task was to review the literature on the science of learning
as well as best practices in other health professions.
“We’re trying to facilitate the integration of our empirical
knowledge about learning, retention and application to
improve our current CE system,” says Susan J. Simonian,