Today’s physicians have busier schedules than ever before. Because of this, when they take time away from work and family to seek out education, they are hoping to maximize their time and receive “the most bang for their buck.” Many continuing medical education (CME) providers respond to this desire by trying to fit as much information as possible into their activities in an attempt to maximize the amount of education possible in a given time. This is a mistake, however, and is more likely to lead to greater dissatisfaction and less engagement with an educational activity.
There is a limit to the amount of information a person can absorb in a given timeframe, particularly if that information is new or challenging. Learners who are not given adequate time for reflection and breaks from learning will often experience cognitive overload, which can lead to disengagement from the activity, an increase in anxiety, and lack of knowledge retention during and after the activity. In order to convert learning to knowledge, learners require time to review and process new information.
In order to maximize learning opportunities, it is important to ensure the learners have an appropriate amount of time to reflect on the material provided and absorb new information. In a live meeting, this can be achieved by ensuring coffee breaks are built into a session. A good general rule is to include a break after every 90 minutes of education. If breaks are not built into an activity schedule, the learners will often take their own breaks, which may disrupt meeting flow, or disengage entirely from the meeting. Another way to include natural pauses for reflection within an activity is to keep each educational segment within the activity short, with a maximum of 45 minutes on a single topic. Changing topics on a regular basis helps reinvigorate the learner and keeps their mind clear for additional information.
Breaks for refreshing and reflection are equally important for online activities. For these activities, a good strategy is to keep content broken into smaller segments of 7 to 10 minutes. After each segment, inserting questions or supplementary materials allows the learner to pause, review what they have learned, and determine if they are ready to move on to additional information. It is key that learners have the opportunity to stop an activity and return where they left off when they are ready for additional learning. Use of an online viewing platform that allows for this kind of flexibility is a major advantage for any online CME activity.
For any CME activity to be effective, learners must have time to pause and absorb information. By building breaks into an activity at regular intervals, the organizer can control when breaks are taken, help retain physician interest in an activity, and increase retention of new knowledge.