All Continuing Education is Not Created Equally – How Do You Choose What’s Right for You?


With all but one state in the U.S. having continuing education requirements to maintain licensure, programming has become a big business, offering a wide variety of programming across multiple different formats. You can attend courses via webinar, online, or in-person. You can also choose from a variety of content areas, ranging from learning a new technique or management of a single joint or condition, to gaining knowledge of evolving approaches to practice or expanding your scope of care. 

But how many times have you spent a few hours, a day or a weekend in a continuing education course to take back to the clinic only one or two “pearls” to apply to your practice? Or, find that what you learned has not made a meaningful change in your approach to care? How do we set out to select continuing education programming that makes good use of our time and financial investment? 

When making this decision, there are a few considerations: professional goals, quality and cost.

Start with the end in mind - What are your professional development goals?

Whether you are an early career or a seasoned clinician, ongoing professional development is key to staying current with changes in care delivery and relevant in practice. When thinking about your professional development goals, ask yourself, “Where do I see my role as a PT/PTA in 3-5 years?” Do you want to develop an expertise in a particular area of practice, such as vestibular rehabilitation or women's health?  Would your practice benefit from greater proficiency in particular content areas, such as pharmacology, or medical screening and differential diagnosis? Are you on a career advancement track? This is your starting point.

Select high-quality programming

In all states, continuing education programming is vetted through a review process, which requires the presentation topic be supported with current scientific evidence. However, this process is not fail-safe, and as a result we may be choosing from courses that are based on “evidence” that is weak, out of date, or biased. So how do you identify a high-quality course? 

Generally, courses delivered by educators and researchers aligned with reputable educational institutions or programs are a good choice for quality evidence-based information. Reading the presenters bios will help you gain a good understanding of their expertise and level of rigor of their work.
It's also important to carefully review the course description to help you determine whether the approach to care is rooted in a sound pathophysiological, neurobiological, or biomechanical basis. Or does it focus on techniques or interventions that do not have a preponderance of supporting clinical evidence?

Consider the format and impact on learning

Webinar, online, in-person…1 day, one-weekend, 1 semester…there are so many options to meet the vast range of needs for accessibility, availability, cost, and learning style. However, it is important to consider that there are pros and cons to each course delivery format relevant to depth of learning an individual learning style.

Topics that take us into a new area of specialty practice require time and immersive study, and it may be difficult to achieve a reasonable level of proficiency in a weekend, or even by putting together a couple of different continuing ed courses. Similarly, areas of practice that require learning of new or updated psychomotor skills would be difficult to master in an online format.  

It is also important to consider your learning style. Do you learn best through questions and answers with the instructor, or group discussion? Are you a kinesthetic learner, learning by “doing” or practice? Or are you best at mastering learning material through a pre-recorded lecture? All important considerations when making your choice.

And finally, the cost…

The old idiom “you get what you pay for” certainly applies to education. However, that's not to say that the more expensive the better. Rather, it is about value; does the cost of a course align with your expectations and how well it meets your professional development goals? Did you come away with information that will promote a more current or innovative way of thinking about PT practice, improve your patient outcomes, or advance your career in a meaningful way? How does a 1-credit university-based course, which earns 15 contact hours and is immersive, compare to the cost and learning gained from webinars? 

In the end, there are many considerations to take into account when choosing among the vast array of continuing education programming options. Making these decisions based on clear professional goals with an eye on quality should point you in the right direction. 

You can check out the Shenandoah University visiting student continuing education opportunities here.



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