Why do we choose one continuing education course over another? Where should we spend our time, effort and money on courses? Why is a particular course of interest to me? How will a course help me and my office, and my patients? What makes a great course? These are all important questions to consider.
I’ve been Director of Continuing Dental Education at the University of Alberta for 18 years. I have had the privilege of meeting many dentists, participants, and instructors from across Alberta, Canada, and the world. I’ve had the chance to talk to these dentists about why they take a particular course, and I try to learn about what they are seeking. Some attend, looking for a very particular skill set to adopt, such as a new technology or technique to incorporate into their office. Others attend out of pure academic interest on a topic they have a passion about. Some attend because they “need” CE points for their respective association or college. The range of needs are broad and varied. Some individuals have a very specific strategy in mind, and others are just experiencing a program to see what it might bring them. This is the beauty of adult education. People do not typically attend courses because they are required, but rather because of alignment with some internalized need. For those of us that provide or host courses, understanding those needs is paramount to our existence.
Regulations can change, creating a demand for a particular type of programing. Or, a new technology can disrupt our way of doing things that require training and exploration. These types of programs are usually tied into the specific short and long term goals of a particular office. As we get to know our participants and their goals, we can better align educational offerings. This, is the domain of andragogy; the methods and principles used in adult education. If you research this term using Wikipedia, you will find a definition, some history, and information on the principles, learning styles, and the academic discipline of adult education. It’s worth exploring this topic because it can help individuals frame their goals and align their learning opportunities.
In Wikipedia’s discussion of andragogy, you’ll find “Principles of Adult Learning” and a link to literacy.ca that discusses the seven Principles of Adult Learning. These include the following: Adults must want to learn; Adults will learn only what they feel they need to learn; Adults learn by doing; Adult learning focuses on problem solving; Experience affects adult learning; Adults learn best in an informal situations; Adults want guidance and consideration as equal partners in the process. These principles drive at the direction, motivation, relevance to goals, application and contextualization of any given learning opportunity.
The “Principles of Adult Learning” are worth considering in a world where there are so many educational offerings, as we are all limited in the amount of time, and resources we have for professional development. The better we understand ourselves, our goals, motivations and what we hope to accomplish, the easier it becomes to align prospective program offerings and opportunities with what suits us best.