Before I left for the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education Annual Meeting in New Orleans in January, I reflected on what I had hoped to learn at the meeting:

  • Information on the newer formats of CME

  • Best grant-review practices

  • New and innovative approaches to audience generation and content delivery

  • The current state of the profession

  • How my peers feel about the future of CME as we know it

I figured that if I were able to gather this information, I would have a successful meeting — and fodder for my next 10 columns. I vowed that this time I would spend more time learning than teaching, so I submitted fewer abstracts to free up my time for sessions. I prepared my agenda and highlighted the sessions that I wanted to attend, people whom I wanted to meet, and exhibits that I wanted to view. All my ducks were lined up in a row.

Conference Theme: Serendipity

Little did I realize that my Alliance experience would start before I even got to New Orleans. The conversations started at the airport — there were at least a half dozen other folks on the plane that were headed to the meeting. We met others in baggage claim, and 16 of us wound up sharing a van to the hotel. Included in this group were academic and private-sector accredited providers, educational partners, and commercial supporters. Not bad for a serendipitous meeting!

Serendipity was the overriding theme for the rest of the conference. Walking to or from meeting rooms I would encounter someone that I wanted to talk to or who wanted to talk to me. In most cases, the hallway conversation trumped the session I was headed to, and met my educational needs and gaps.

Thinking about this got me wondering: How can I learn from this to improve the education that I develop? Can I create an environment that fosters conversation? Can I use self-assessment to create an environment where learners participate in deciding what education is best for their needs? Can I use problem-based learning to promote discussion about the issues relevant to improving patient care? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is a resounding yes.

Did I just conduct an overall program evaluation that will allow for a total quality-improvement approach to improving the activities that I am involved with? The answer to this question is also yes.

This exercise made me realize that it is as important to learn from ourselves as it is to learn from the literature and others. Perhaps we need to remember to treat our learners the way we would like to be treated. This could apply to everything from how we select online services to how we get our news — or how we like to learn and from whom.

Once we learn to learn from ourselves, we will be better able to educate others.

Lawrence Sherman, FACME, CCMEP, is senior vice president, educational strategy, with Prova Education, an affiliate of Omnia Education, Fort Washington, Pa. He is a frequent lecturer on topics related to the strategic development, dissemination, and evaluation of CME activities. Reach him at

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