HealthApril 21, 2020

Matching your learning style to your options for continuing medical education

By: Whitney J. Palmer

To get through medical school, you probably had to identify your personal learning style and find study resources to match. When it comes to navigating your options for continuing medical education (CME) as a practicing physician, the same concept holds true. How you best absorb information will play a critical role in the tools you use to stay up to date with the latest clinical developments in your field. For example, while some may prefer text-based materials like 5-Minute Clinical Consult, others will gain the most from lectures, like those available from AudioDigest.

“There isn’t one preferred medium for continuing medical education, because different people learn in different ways,” Lyerka Miller, Ph.D., of Miller Medical Communications told The DO. In fact, there are four basic different learning styles. Here’s how they align with your options for continuing medical education materials.

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Learning styles in medical education


This is probably the most commonly recognized learning style as it mirrors the way most educational systems seek to convey information. If you fall into this category, you’re drawn to the written word—journal articles and books are your preferred method of absorbing details.

This type of continuing medical education is often presented as a case-based activity and can be completed at your leisure. In written form, you’re given all pertinent details and tested with multiple-choice questions. This option gives you the opportunity to read and reread the material as often as you need to in order to absorb and internalize it.

“Text-based CME, whether online or in print, remains popular because reading is part of physicians’ DNA,” Miller explained. “It fits into a learning modality that’s present throughout their training.”


If you find yourself drawn to diagrams, charts, graphs and other visualizations, consider yourself a visual learner. You absorb information best when you can see it. Chances are you’re also a note taker or a list maker, or you benefit from concept mapping.

Look for CME materials that involve visuals, videos or presentations. Whether the program is in person or online, one that includes handouts or PowerPoint slides will speak to your strengths as a visual learner. Having those items can be critical as you might need to refer back to them in the future to refresh your memory.


For you, sound reinforces your learning. You prefer to listen to lectures or talks instead of reading written materials. In fact, you might be a slower reader than other individuals, but you don’t shy away from speaking up during discussions. In many instances, you likely find repeating information out loud augments your understanding.

Liking to hear information aloud makes you a good candidate for recorded lectures or podcasts. If you attend live lectures, choose ones with a Q&A session so you’ll have the opportunity to participate in discussions. Look for program leaders who actively engage attendees.

A recording of the talk might also be a good learning option for you. And if convenience is a factor in your choice of CME materials, accessing audio programming through an accredited service like AudioDigest can be a great way to keep up to date on your own terms.


Sitting in a chair or at a desk could be a hindrance for you if you’re this kind of learner. Experiencing things—getting involved and acting them out—can help you better understand concepts.

Perhaps the most significant opportunity for continuing medical education growth exists for interactive learners. According to The DO, there might come a day when virtual reality makes its way into interactive CME, giving you the opportunity to experience what the presenter is talking about while listening to the lecture. But today, simulation-based programs—experiences where you can potentially act out a scenario based on the information provided during the session—give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in any new concepts.

This type of learning can be particularly valuable for patient care. By participating in a simulation, you can see first-hand how various decisions could play out in real life, setting you up for success and helping you avoid mistakes.

Ultimately, whatever your learning style, there’s an option for continuing medical education that fits your needs. Once you find the right match, you maximize your chances for learning success.

Whitney J. Palmer

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