“In my opinion, ignoring teaching excellence is like creating a race car and handing the wheel to a baboon.” So said one participant in an August 14 chat at the #CMEchat hashtag on Twitter, where a group of CME professionals gathered to discuss the difference between educators and content experts, and what it takes to make a faculty member a real educator.

Here’s more on the discussion, which is archived in its entirety at the CME Advocate blog.

The Definition of a Good Educator
"A good teacher leaves an impression," stated one CMEChatter. To another, a good teacher is, first and foremost, a "great listener, learner, planner, and motivator." "Communication is the fundamental competency of teaching ... so master communicators have a huge leg up," one mused.

Many of the chatters agreed that educators should be able to help others with challenging situations, and that closed-mindedness was incompatible with good teaching. One tweeter said that good educators provide perspective in addition to mastery of their subject matter; as another pointed out, even the most knowledgeable experts may lack the skills necessary to teach effectively.

When asked about their favorite teachers, most remembered their childhood instructors more fondly than those involved in their professional educations. This roused a discussion about the difference between pedagogy and andragogy—is a good pedagogical teacher the same as a good andragogical teacher? “An adult educator should understand both,” said one participant.

Faculty and Format
A thread throughout the chat was the question of whether an exceptional knowledge base is superior to educational skills. Unless you’re a fan of baboons at NASCAR, they agreed, teaching ability trumps knowledge alone and, in fact, “Bad faculty completely undermine educational planning.”

However, when it came to key opinion leaders, or KOLs, the answer got a bit murkier. One tweeter finds KOLs to be poor teachers, but continues to hire them because potential students are attracted to big names. “Is it a performance or an educational program?” chided another chatter. “Big names are for shows.” Another believes that because a KOL attracts learners, a mixture of both KOLs and trained adult educators is in order. Faculty members need not be experts, suggested one, but they must maintain a solid understanding of adult education as well as their subject matter.

Though presentation is key to effective teaching, the chatters also recognized a distinction between presenters and teachers—a presenter speaks with a general need in mind, whereas a teacher must take the needs of his or her learners into account. A key way to tell the difference? One person replied that the test would be whether the talk would be the same whether or not anyone else was in the room.

While discussing the issue of the popularity of KOLs, even those who aren't good teachers, chatters noticed a curious phenomenon: Learner satisfaction is often inversely proportional to quality of learning. One chatter posed it as a choice between entertainment and education. Another noted that learners are more satisfied, at least in the short term, when they haven’t been challenged: “If the boat doesn’t rock … the boat ride is great!”

Development and Best Practices
It also can be difficult to gauge a faculty member’s educational capabilities. Some said they rely on evaluations and past experience to sort the educator wheat from the chaff. Of course, the value derived from evaluations is going to depend on the accuracy of the questions asked. As one person noted, there’s a “GIGO [garbage in, garbage out] possibility here.”

Ultimately, “It is the providers' responsibility to ensure that their faculty understand how to teach and function in activities,” said one chatter. Added another, “A good program director can also be helpful in instructing faculty [and] can help smooth over” some faculty members’ deficiencies.

Given the importance the group placed on educational skills, some chatters regarded the scarcity of faculty development programs among providers as a major issue. One asked if the problem is that it is cost-prohibitive to teach faculty how to be good teachers. In her opinion, it’s worth the cost: “This is an investment into the brand of a provider’s program.”

One suggestion was to let faculty know what the educational gaps are to be addressed—“Early on, tell them how far they have to move the needle”—and to publish the outcomes associated with each faculty member’s activities. “They are competitive,” noted one chatter.

The #CMEChat is held every Wednesday at 11 a.m. EST.

Elissa Shea is an intern at MeetingsNet. You can contact her at elissa.a.shea@gmail.com.

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