On September 14, I was in Harrisburg, Pa., at the inaugural meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of The Alliance for CME, while my colleague, Betsy Woodall, PharmD, was participating in a National Institute for Quality Improvement and Education conference in Chicago.

Before the advent of social media, there would have been few, if any, quick ways for us to share our learning experiences—and it would have been impossible to share in real time. But with the advent of social media as a learning tool, what was once impossible is now both simple and free.

Learning in Near Real Time
I tweeted about MAACME through my personal twitter account (@CMEAdvocate). Betsy, who is new to social media but eager to learn how it can help learners, was practicing by sending me 140 character “tweets” via a more traditional channel: e-mail. I would critique the style (as much as one has a tweeting style), and we collected her thoughts over the course of the day. We not only found ourselves to be virtually in two places at once, we also were able to share, mentor, and learn in near real time.

But this was bigger than just Betsy and me: I used the hashtag #MAACME10 to share my tweets from Harrisburg with CME professionals around the country who then further shared by retweeting my notes. By chance, a third meeting of CME professionals was taking place in Philadelphia; throughout the day I was able to respond to a number of questions from participants at that meeting too.

This example certainly was not a randomized trial designed to determine the effectiveness of social media as a tool for learning and teaching, but it does make a point. Prior to the easy access social media like Twitter give us, Betsy, I, and our peers in Philadelphia could not be in more than one place at a time. Now we can enhance, enforce, and extend our learning 140 characters at a time.

In the end, we each learned more via social media than we ever would have learned without it. Specifically, social media can do the following:

Enhance learning—It is generally accepted that writing down and speaking aloud a nugget of information will improve uptake and ensure retention. As I sat in a session, I used Twitter as a way of taking notes, and throughout the day I was able to engage in discussions about the notes I took.

Enforce learning—By using the hashtag #MAACME10, the notes I took are now archived and readily searchable via Google, Twittersearch, and Twapperkeeper.com. Even as I craft this column, I am reviewing the content that was shared by the MAACME faculty—there were a lot of pearls shared from the podium.

Extend learning
—I knew that I had colleagues and peers around the country who were interested in participating in the inaugural MAACME meeting, and several were able to peek into the discussion by following my tweets in near real time. Others were able to look back through the discussion later. In both cases, these “distance learners” (in both time and space) were able to ask questions, clarify thoughts, and extend the discussion into other realms.

Brian S. McGowan, PhD, has dedicated the past 12 years to medical education as a faculty member, mentor, accredited provider, and commercial supporter. The opinions expressed are McGowan’s and do not represent the views of his employer, Pfizer Inc. Contact him via Twitter: @cmeadvocate.

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