No matter how hot the topic, how dynamic the faculty, or how strong the coffee, it’s going to be a challenge to get participants actively engaged at a 6 a.m. satellite symposium. The Philadelphia-based Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education decided to try to perk things up at its early-morning satellite symposium at the annual American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting last year by customizing the format of the popular bar trivia game Quizzo to get sleepy docs up and engaged with the material—and each other.

“We kept hearing about how games have a place in adult education now,” says the Institute’s president, Cathy Pagano, CCMEP. “They are supposed to be a way to engage an audience, to make the content fun and interesting so they will remember what they learn, and maybe even spur a little more interaction than they’d get just listening to a didactic presentation.” Nonetheless, once her team settled on the Quizzo format for the AAO satellite, she remained skeptical, so much so that she wanted to attend herself to see how it would go.

What she saw initially was a couple hundred sleepy souls shuffling in as they normally would, clutching cups of coffee and expecting to wolf down some breakfast. They figured they’d listen politely, if half-heartedly, to a lecture, get their CME certificates, and get on with their day. “Lively” and “engaged” are not words that would have come to their minds.

But as the case-based presentation went on, it became apparent that something was going to be a bit different this time. The tables were asked a series of questions based on the content they were learning. They then had to huddle together to come up with a consensus they would write down as their table’s official answer, then hand it up to officials for grading. According to Pagano, the buzz in the room grew as the docs began making a case with the other docs at their table for their team answer.

And they got a bit competitive, which made it more fun, she says. One doc, a big shot in the therapeutic area under discussion, was sitting alone at a table, and yet he was popping up all the right answers. He became the man to beat, she says. Although he did end up winning, a few other teams tied with him. This being CME, no one won any prizes, but “they all walked away very proud of themselves,” Pagano says with a laugh.

Winning Over the Skeptics
Despite her initial skepticism, Pagano was pleased with the outcome, as were her program chairman and faculty. In fact, Pagano says, the chairman of the program thought it went so well at the breakfast symposium that he wanted to try it at a dinner meeting. “When we introduce these ideas, they’re usually met with skepticism and resistance,” she says. But it’s worth pushing through all that to make it happen. “It’s a little different, a little fun, and we didn’t have to spend a million dollars. It’s amazing how all it takes is just a little something to get people engaged.” And they were. In fact the attendees were so enthusiastic about it that they asked for a repeat at the next year’s conference.

Which they’ll get, with a few changes. Because grading those scribbles-on-paper got a little complicated—these are docs, after all—Pagano says that this year they’re using their audience-response system for the game as well as for the more typical types of questions. Each participant will have his or her own individual keypad for the general questions, and each table will have a special ARS pad that will be used only for the team answers.

Getting Started With Gaming
Before adding a gaming element to its satellite symposium, the Institute tested the concept on a tabletop exhibit at the American Society of Hematology conference, which draws several thousand healthcare practitioners. Using the format of the “$100,000 Pyramid” TV show, the game entailed using an ARS pad to answer questions posed on a computer—the more questions the docs answered correctly, the higher up the pyramid they went. They tracked high scorers via an old-fashioned white-erase leader board. “Wouldn’t you know, these sons of a guns started telling their friends to come over and see if they could beat them. People started lining up to play the game,” says Pagano.

And they were engaged, even to the point of challenging the answers. “We had all the references to support the answers, and from time to time we’d have to call our medical director over to explain why a specific answer was the right one,” she says. “They’d walk away saying, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know that.’” So while it wasn’t an accredited CME activity, it certainly was a learning experience, says Pagano. Her organization also reaped some valuable data about what people were interested in, along with where their knowledge gaps were, so it served as a sort of mini needs assessment as well.

Now the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education also is looking into livening up the basic debate format by injecting a little “American Idol” style. While it’s still in the early stages of development, this format would allow the faculty to delve deeply into a topic in an interesting way, and it would give the audience the opportunity to learn from a variety of people, not just a couple of lecturers, all while “playing a game.” .

Pagano says these gaming elements can be adapted to inject fun and interactivity into almost any therapeutic area. And while you can make it even more interesting by renting iPads for participants to use, you don’t really need to go to the trouble and expense. In fact, Pagano says, those iPads may end up distracting from the learning if people become more interested in playing with the shiny gizmos in their hands than listening to the program.

These are just a few of the ideas that one organization is using to make their CME offerings more engaging, interactive, and effective learning activities. If your organization is shaking up CME as usual, we’d like to know. Pleas leave a comment below or e-mail editor Sue Pelletier if you have ideas or tips to share.

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