Why is it that, even though you conducted a thorough needs assessment, identified knowledge, skills, and/or competence gaps, and got the best possible faculty on board, your outcomes assessment reveals that your learners didn’t learn what you thought they would, much less put it into practice?

One possibility is that your educational design was missing a key element: Adherence to what we know about how adults learn.

As Marcia Jackson, PhD, president of CME by Design, and Kathleen Geissel, PharmD, CCMEP, vice president, learning design and measurement, with Medscape Education, told participants at a session during the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Healthcare Professions’ annual meeting in San Francisco in January, we’re moving from “should we use it?” to “how do we use it?” when it comes to adult-learning principles.

For those who have or want to earn Accreditation Council for CME accreditation, it’s not even a choice. It’s codified in ACCME’s Essential Area 2, Criteria 5: “The provider chooses educational formats for activities/interventions that are appropriate for the setting, objectives, and desired results of the activity.”

To provide education that results in knowledge acquisition or behavior change, activities must engage the learners with the content, according to established adult learning theory. That means designing the event so it will get learners’ attention from the very first contact and hold it throughout the activity. Jackson and Geissel both told—and showed—their session participants what it takes to do that.