Blended learning may not be a new concept, but it hasn’t been easy to get continuing medical education credit for—until now.
“As an accreditor, we were looking for opportunities to remove barriers and make things simpler for CME provider organizations,” said Amy Smith, senior manager, CME Credit Systems and Compliance with the American Academy of Family Physicians, during a recent MeetingsNet webinar. “One of the things that we heard from CME provider organizations that they were wanting to hold or already were holding blended-learning activities, but accreditation and CME credit was a barrier.”
In response, AAFP came up with a new blended-learning accreditation option that can help CME providers design a more effective learning process.
Beyond the Flipped Classroom
While the flipped-classroom format—where learners are given pre-work to do before a live activity so they can focus on applying that foundational knowledge with a skilled facilitator on site—is a form of blended learning, there are many others as well, she said. “Blended learning is when you use one or more educational formats to deliver education to one group of learners in one learning experience.” The formats you use will depend on the subject matter, learning goals, learner motivation, and practical considerations, she said.
For example, you could have your learners read a journal article and then join a live tweet chat with other learners and a faculty member to facilitate the conversation. During that tweet chat, you may learn of barriers your learners encountered when trying to implement some of the recommendations discussed in the journal article. So you could design a live webcast or webinar to discuss ways they could overcome these barriers.
“With blended learning, you can couple different formats to design the best fit for your learners,” said Smith.
The benefits of blended learning are myriad, including spreading the cognitive load out over time, increasing faculty/learner interaction during the live activity, and enabling learners to learn at their own pace and drive their own education. “At AAFP, we believe personalized learning is the future, and that blended learning is just one way of supporting different learning styles and preferences. It's also a great opportunity to reinforce learning by using different formats and supporting higher-level-outcome activities.”
Blended Learning à la AAFP
AAFP, a medical society with about 129,000 members, is one of four accrediting bodies for physicians in the U.S., along with the Accreditation Council for CME, the American Medical Association, and the American Osteopathic Association. What makes AAFP’s system different is that it is focused specifically on family physicians’ life-long learning needs, and it directly certifies or accredits individual CME activities. It does not offer organizational accreditation, though Smith said it does regularly communicate with the other accreditor and credit system to make sure that its requirements “are as harmonized as possible.”
For its latest option, “The AAFP defines blended learning as a single educational activity that is designed for the same learner, or group of learners, and is delivered via multiple formats,” she said. “If you design an activity for the same set of learners and you utilize two or more of these five formats—live courses, enduring materials, medical journals, performance improvement, and point-of-care learning—that would qualify as a blended learning activity.”
For example, you could blend a performance improvement (PI) CME activity with a live course. Learners often struggle with finding ways to access or interpret their data during performance improvement activities, and adding a live meeting could help people work together in the intervention stage to solve for some of the barriers that they're encountering. “You can see where using multiple formats within one activity enables you to support learners in different ways.”
Smith was quick to add that, while many of her examples include a live meeting component, it’s not necessary. Combining an enduring material with a point-of-care activity also would qualify as blended learning.
One restriction to blended learning with AAFP: You can’t qualify with an activity that repurposes content for different audiences. For example, if you record a live meeting or a live webinar for one group of learners, then post in on your website for a different audience, that’s not blended learning from the AAFP's perspective, according to Smith, because it then no longer would be a single educational activity designed for the same learner or group of learners that is delivered via two or more of AAFP's five formats.
In addition to supporting a better learning environment, AAFP’s new blended learning option means that CME providers only have to put in one application for credit because it’s considered to be one activity, whereas in the past they would have had to also submit applications for one or more of the blended learning components. And, because it is considered to be one activity, learners also get one credit statement. Smith said, “We do offer CME reporting as a benefit for AAFP members, and previously they would have had to report credit under multiple activity types. With blended learning, they can report it once and be done.”