Learning is all about making some sort of change. As GPs, it can be easy for us to think of our learning simply as a process we go through to tick a box in our appraisals. Maybe we should be thinking more deeply about the types of learning that truly cause us to change for the better?
Some learning leads to really obvious and direct change in our practice, like offering a new type of treatment. But often it’s more subtle than that. For example, learning can represent a change in how we feel towards a certain individual or group, or a change in the way we think about a new (or old) disease.
If you think of all the ways in which you learn, the chances are, you can divide them into experiences which are either individual or communal. Individual learning might include reading journal articles and books, completing online modules, watching videos, or listening to podcasts. Communal learning, on the other hand, might include clinical meetings, conferences, study days, or even interacting with colleagues online, such as on social media, or on a secure discussion forum such as the Mental Health Community of Practice.
In recent decades, though, the raft of individual learning opportunities has meant that we may question whether we need communal learning at all. If you can read, listen to, and watch all the right content in your pyjamas on the sofa, or on your commute to work, or whilst completing your run or bike ride, why should you bother to make the effort to learn with others?
The answer to that, I would suggest, is that communal learning helps us to change in ways that aren’t necessarily possible when we learn individually. Being a GP is often a lonely and isolating job and as the job gets busier and more intense it can be even more difficult to find time to share anecdotes or advice in coffee breaks or other informal environments within the workplace. This makes it even more important that we use our valuable learning time to recalibrate, benchmark, and make sense of all the latest evidence and developments with our professional colleagues.
The transition to online is difficult to resist. So communal learning doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to be in the same room (although this can be helpful for many of us for all sorts of reasons). Technological advances have meant that we can interact with each other in so many different ways. Twitter journal clubs and Facebook groups are as popular with GPs as they are with other specialties within medicine and other professional groups both inside and outside of healthcare.
Those attending Medcast and NB Medical Education Hot Topics courses regularly tell us how helpful they find the Q&A sections of our courses, both to hear more informal insights from lecturers, as well as to gauge what others in the room are thinking about how to interpret and contextualise new information. We also often hear how valuable the conversations that take place in the breaks are and we really appreciate the exchanges that we take part in too. As the courses have moved to additional online offerings through webinars it’s been encouraging (and perhaps unsurprising) that those taking part have continued to value the interactivity that is offered through live questions and comments.
So, as you plan your learning for 2020, I would encourage you to think about what kind of change you are hoping for and how learning with others might help you to achieve some of that change in ways that may not be possible alone.
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This article was originally published on the NB Medical Education Hot Topics Blog in Jan 2020. Edited for Australia.