The Smart Way to Measure Continuing Education Learner Competence and Performance

Graph and Chart Measurements

How do you know your continuing professional education (CE) activities are effective? If you’re like most CE providers, learner competence and performance are key success metrics. They help you determine whether a CE activity actually has an impact on learner performance in the workplace – or whether it doesn’t.

But assessing competence and performance isn’t always simple. For starters, you need to determine what it means to be “competent” in a particular subject matter. Then you need a way to determine:

The way you approach these questions can impact the quality and quantity of responses you receive from learners. By using LMS technologies to simplify competence and performance assessments for learners, you increase your odds of obtaining data that helps you improve educational content.

Start with a pre-test

We’ve written about Moore’s outcomes taxonomy before. A tool well-known to the continuing medical education (CME) community, Moore’s taxonomy outlines a seven-part assessment methodology:

  1. Participation
  2. Satisfaction
  3. Learning
    1. Declarative Knowledge
    2. Procedural Knowledge
  4. Competence
  5. Performance
  6. Patient Health
  7. Community Health

Beginning with learner participation and ending with community outcomes, the taxonomy addresses “competence” shortly after addressing “learning” (whether learners learned anything) and just before “performance” (whether they used the new knowledge in the workplace).

However, before thinking about competence, you have to determine what the learner knew prior to participating in the activity. A diagnostic assessment will help you here, and the best way to administer one is through a pre-test that learners complete at the beginning of a CE activity. Deliver the evaluation or pre-test automatically when learners:

The more tightly integrated a pre-test is with your online learner CE experience, the better. Whether you opt for a non-graded or graded diagnostic is up to you. What matters most is that you’re collecting usable data from learners prior to their exposure to your content. From that starting point, you’ll be able to determine what they learned.

Prior to CE live events, many providers ask learners to self-report their familiarity with the subject matter via a pre-activity survey. Even if they don’t require learners to complete a post-test following the activity (post-tests are more common with online activities), the pre-activity survey still helps providers understand whether the content is valuable to their learners.

Just automate survey administration by including it with event registration. You’ll have all the data you need before your event begins!

Assess learning and ask about change

Proof of learning is the first indicator that your CE activity is a success, and you can gauge whether learning occurred by comparing the results of a post-test with the learner’s pre-test responses. Ideally, you will automatically administer the post-test in your LMS, just as you did with the pre-test. That way, you can pull reports on both tests to easily assess learning.

For example, let’s say you have an activity designed to help physicians identify traits that indicate a patient should undergo a certain cancer screening. Your pre-test would seek to discover whether (and how) learners suggest screenings to patients today. Post-test results, on the other hand, will reveal whether learners know they should make a change to their current screening recommendations.

The next step – and it’s a significant one – is asking learners whether they plan to change.

The Boston University School of Medicine, which provides online and live CME, embraces the “ask about change” approach but takes things a step farther. There, learners actually commit to change after they complete live or enduring activities. Instead of just finding out if learners want to make a change, the provider has them pledge, if they choose, to modify their practice.

You, too, can ask learners whether they plan make (or commit to) change in your post-activity evaluation. Automate both processes by integrating them with the learner’s CE experience – to begin the activity, learners have to take the pre-test; to complete the activity, they have to take the post-test and complete a post-activity evaluation.

Help learners improve performance

Outcomes are a big deal in the CME world. For years, the American Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) has implored providers to tie educational content to real-world outcomes. In a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, ACCME President and CEO Graham McMahon actually called on regulators to evaluate CME providers more stringently based on outcomes.

Needless to say, outcomes matter a lot. As a provider, you need a way to make sure your learners modify workplace performance following completion of a CE activity.

An outcomes survey helps you here. You can’t shadow every learner, but you can send them an online survey in the weeks and months following their participation. Set up the outcomes survey when you create the CE activity in your LMS. All participating learners will automatically receive it via email within a time frame you specify.

Integrating the CE experience helps you and your learners

Did your CE activity make learners better at what they do? You have to ask them to know for sure. The easiest way to do that is to integrate pre-tests, post-tests, post-activity evaluations, and outcomes surveys with your online, learner-side CE experience.

You’ll get responses that are complete and easy to analyze. As a result, you can improve existing CE content, get great ideas for new CE activities, and demonstrate to your accrediting body that your programs are working.

The biggest beneficiaries, of course, are your learners and the people whose lives they impact.