5 Problems With Online CME Courses (And How to Fix Them)
There’s no question about it. Continuing medical education (CME) learners increasingly prefer an online experience.
Even for live meetings, learners expect to use some kind of online software for registration, payments, and post-event evaluations. They expect things to be streamlined. They want it to be as easy as possible to access CME content and earn credit. After all, they’re busy.
So why do online CME courses have so many problems?
From complicated interfaces to the absence of expected functionality, online software for enduring materials, journal-based activities, and CME tracking often leave much to be desired. Here are five problems with the typical online CME experience and tips for avoiding them when you transition to a new platform.
1. Lack of integration among learner tools
Learners definitely need a way to log in to your online system. That’s obvious.
But should they have to log in to multiple systems to complete different tasks – even when all of those tasks relate to the larger objective of accessing and completing CME activities? Ideally, they shouldn’t.
That isn’t how it works, though. At least, not in many CME environments.
Maybe learners log into your website to view current CME offerings. Then, once they’ve seen what’s available, they log into a separate application (or applications) to view journal articles and enduring content. Then they check on whether they’ve been awarded credit by returning to your website at a later date.
And so it goes. There’s no cohesive experience. It’s not streamlined.
The solution is to select a learning management system (LMS) that was built specifically for CME. That way, you only need one piece of software to cover all critical functions for online courses. For example – and this is how it works in the Rievent Platform – learners can log in once whether on your website or dedicated CME dashboard (we call ours the Learning Portal) from within the web application. From there, they can do everything:
- Browse available CME activities
- Select online CME courses to complete
- Complete any associated tests and evaluations
- Request and receive credit
- View and print certificates and transcripts
All of these fundamental CME tasks are integrated into one application. By insisting on a fully integrated learner experience, you can eliminate technical frustrations, making it easier for learners to get their CME and move on.
2. Inadequate activity selection interface
CME providers list activities online using a variety of methods. For instance, we’ve seen websites with lists of current activities. Learners see what’s available, decide which ones to complete, and log in to a separate application to view the content. Then there might be a separate area where they look at live event listings.
Everything is available online – it’s just not easy to view at a glance.
Ideally, your CME activity selection interface will offer learners:
- Search tools that help learners identify relevant activities
- A one-stop area or activity catalog for browsing available activities
- The option to begin an activity straight from its listing in the catalog
- An integrated events calendar, so learners can view your live event offerings (when applicable) in the same place they complete online activities
Just as you’re insisting on an integrated “big picture” experience for learners, the activity selection process should be fully integrated with the online activity completion experience. Learners should be able to do everything in one place, one time.
3. Nonexistent or ineffective assessments
Assessments matter a lot, but not just to providers. They matter to learners, too.
Learners want confirmation that they’ve absorbed whatever information was presented in a CME activity. They also want to complete evaluations immediately following activity completion. For online CME courses, these features are critical. Unfortunately, not all CME software supports them.
Maybe you’d like to offer a pre-test and post-test to validate whether you’re presenting new information to learners. Or maybe you’d like to deliver a post-activity outcomes survey in the weeks and months following activity completion to determine whether your CME is having an effect in the real world.
But if your software doesn’t let you do that, you’re perpetually in the dark.
How do you fix this problem? By bringing the assessment process into the online activity. That way, you can deliver any type of assessment you want – pre-test/diagnostic, post-test, informational survey, qualitative evaluation – and learners can complete it easily. They’ll have the validation they desire, and you’ll have the data you need to gauge the success of any activity.
Speaking of data…
4. Limited data gathering capabilities
Unless your online CME software was designed to gather learner data, it probably isn’t giving you information about activity performance. Many CME providers only collect the bare minimum in learner data, even when they’re using supposedly automated tools.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. When you select your next CME application, insist on a product that:
- Gathers learner and activity data for every online activity
- Includes all the data your organization wants to monitor
- Presents all data in the form of easily scannable (and exportable) reports
- Collects all ACCME PARS data in the background, so you don’t have to collate it manually.
Reporting capabilities are a major factor. Nowadays, CME providers don’t just need useful reports to get a sense of an activity’s effectiveness – although that remains one big way they use data! – they need them to remain competitive in the marketplace. That’s especially true for organizations that depend on CME for revenue.
Limited data gathering functionality isn’t just a “nice to have” anymore. There are strong business reasons to insist on it.
5. Fragmented experiences
Maybe you’re delivering online CME activities one way, handling CME webinars another way, and doing live event registration on a completely different application. This might seem normal, but it’s not learner-friendly.
It’s fragmented. If your goal is to encourage learners to complete multiple activity types, the fragmented experience probably isn’t helping.
Far more than just “not integrated,” a fragmented learner experience makes it hard for learners to access test scores or certificates without going through offline channels. Even as learners complete some activities online, they can’t easily get the credit letters for those activities online or easily view a list of activities previously completed.
All of these functions should be part of your online experience, not disparate tasks completed in disparate places.
On the whole, the most common problems with online CME courses relate to usability and simplicity. Learners should definitely challenge themselves when participating in your activities, but you shouldn’t challenge them by providing clunky software. Likewise, you shouldn’t challenge yourself with manual data collection or by fielding, say… phone requests for documentation (transcripts, for example) that could be delivered automatically.
The bottom line is that CME management can be easy for everyone. By insisting on a single, integrated, non-fragmented, comprehensive CME experience, you can get there.