Transforming a face-to-face meeting into a continuous and more effective learning experience.

Dr. Mayorga
By Dr. Eduardo Mayorga

This post presents the limitations medical meetings and congresses have regarding their impact in learning. It presents different ways of enhancing effectivity and reach of meetings. Finally it presents some pros and cons of the suggested actions and discusses a stepwise approach to help them happen.

Medical meetings and congresses are usually a time-framed event, lasting less than a week. They occur, in the best of cases, once a year, and usually, every two or more years.

lecturehallIn that short period of time, hundreds of topics are presented, most of them lasting an average of 10 minutes. Even courses that may last for one hour include so many subtopics that the relation topic/time usually does not exceed the 10-minute ratio.

Such a short time allotted to each topic can only allow participants to check if their previous knowledge is up-to-date, discover areas where they need to learn more, and maybe carry back home some tips and main concepts.

During the event there is no time for memorizing, deep understanding, analysis, discussion, assessing and developing competencies to be applied when back at work. Even the few pearls that participants bring back, quickly fade with time.

Extending and enhancing the learning experience:
There are several ways in which meetings could be transformed into a better learning experience and, at the same time, better comply with CME recommendations. Following are some of them.

  1. Pre congress needs assessments
  2. Performance support documents
  3. Post congress, online, extended presentations
  4. Focalized, interactive, onsite presentations
  5. Question and answer forums
  6. Fighting the forgetting curve
  7. Industry related opportunities

Pre congress needs assessments
To comply with criterion 2 of CME recommendations, we need to perform a needs assessment to identify the gap in knowledge that participants have. Ideally the whole meeting should be built around this needs assessment. Because of time constraints for organizing this and because of the fast  pace new advances and updates come up in medicine, many times knowledge gaps that doctors have are obvious.

Even if topics for the congress are based on this supposition, a pre congress needs assessment would still be of value for participants.

This could be done starting several months previous to the congress by sending out quizzes on the topics to be covered in the congress. This would allow the congress organizers measure the real  gap and participants better choose the activities in the congress they should attend.

Performance support documents
Performance support documents are paper or electronic documents that help apply what someone has learned at the moment of need. No matter the length and quality of the training, it is virtually impossible for one person to remember all that is required for a given situation. Examples of performance support documents are flowcharts, infographics, data tables, calculators, etc.

This kind of deliverables are better replacements for the traditional handouts. Read more on this topic

Including performance supports documents adds to complying with criterion 5 of CME activities

Post congress, online, extended presentations
No presenter in a congress is ever happy with the 10 minutes slot he or she is allotted. They usually have to tightly pack too much information and data and speak at a fast pace to keep up with time.

Speakers could be invited to send a  recorded audiovisual presentation with no time restrictions. This extended presentation would be setup online for post congress access.

This online activity would also allow to call for presentations that would be only online. A careful selection of these not only would allow to offer more content, but it would be an opportunity for younger doctors to show their teaching abilities and to be considered for being invited as speakers at future congresses.

Including post congress, online, extended presentations, adds to complying with criterion 5 of CME activities

Focalized, interactive, onsite presentations
Presenters that opt for the previous suggestion could make a better use of their 10 minutes during the congress, presenting just the main facts, allowing more interactivity with participants using audience response systems, and describing what participants will be able to find in the extended lecture and performance support documents that they would access after the congress.

Including this, adds to complying with criterion 5 of CME activities

Intra and post congress question and answer forums
Not everybody gets an opportunity to ask questions during the congress. Even those who get the opportunity, many times are not able to get the different opinions from a large panel in a symposium.

Online question and answer forums would allow for this during and after the congress.

Fighting the forgetting curve
No matter how much we think we learn at a congress, it fades away with time. In the same way we need spaced reinforcements for a vaccine, learning also needs reinforcements to make sure knowledge will be there when the moment to apply it comes.

One way of fighting the forgetting curve is using post congress quizzes where the feedback on the results links to the part of the presentation that needs a reinforcement. These quizzes can also be used as a post test.

This complies with criterion 11 of CME activities

See more here 12 minute Youtube video

Industry related opportunities
Industry participation is crucial for sustaining medical events. Good CME requires complying with criterion seven, eight, nine and ten of CME recommendations.

Complying with these criteria, industry participation could be added to the online activities as it is added during the congress with industry sponsored events and commercial exhibitions.

The site containing the post congress activities could include a virtual technological expositions with industry stands in the same way it is done during the congress but with the advantage of its permanency in time and its lower cost.

See example here

We believe implementing all these suggestions would enhance the impact of our congress by:
A. Making our congresses more effective as teaching interventions
B. Helping people access the congress by attending only the virtual part if they are not able to attend the meeting itself
C.Helping organizations and societies adopting these recommendations stand out from their competitors.
D. The extended presence of industry would allow for more income and mutual benefit

New benefits never come without drawbacks. Implementing all these suggestions will add more work to organizers and speakers. Nevertheless we believe the final balance will benefit organizers, participants, speakers and industry.

There is no way a congress will be able to apply all these recommendation to all symposia, courses and other activities of the congress in one step. Logistics, speaker resistance and funding may initially prevent the complete implementation.

There are at least 3 actions any congress organizer can take to facilitate the adoption process:

  1. Develop guidelines and tutorials for speakers that would help them prepare the content, quizzes and other documents.
  2. Develop a “star” rating system that would allow participants to know which activities of the congress have incorporated modern teaching strategies.
  3. Prioritize the advertisement of these activities in newsletters related to the coming congress.

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