Tips for Choosing and Evaluating Continuing Education (CE) Courses
First, determine your educational and professional goals and needs—Ask yourself, what are the problems and issues I face that education could help resolve?
Prior to Registering for a Course
Review the promotional materials and brochures, which should contain the following elements:
- Course title/program description—Do they adequately describe program content? Is the program rationale clearly explained? Is the target audience clearly identified? Do I fit within that target audience? Is there a limit to the number of participants who may attend?
- Learning outcomes—Are they stated? Do they indicate specifically what I will be able to do as a result of the program? Is the number of learning outcomes reasonable for the length of the program? Reviewing this element may help you distinguish broad overview courses from in-depth programs.
- Faculty credentials—Do stated instructor qualifications lead you to believe a meaningful program will be delivered? Is the instructor presenting within his/her area of expertise?
- Faculty disclosures—Has each instructor disclosed relevant financial and non-financial relationships (or lack thereof) related to the course content? Disclosures help you determine if the instructor has a bias toward the products, services or practices associated with the course. It is acceptable for an instructor to have a bias as long as it is disclosed.
- Instructional methods—Are they described? Do they include active involvement of the audience?
- CEUs—Does the program offer ASHA CEUs? Is it offered by an ASHA Approved CE Provider? What are the criteria for satisfactory completion of the course and earning of CEUs?
- Registration fees—Are they reasonable when compared to similar programs? If not, inquire.
- Refund/cancellation policy—Is it clearly stated in the promotional materials?
- Follow-up from program provider—Has the provider responded to your requests for additional information?
During the Course/Presentation
At the beginning of the presentation, the instructor should provide you with their disclosure information, identifying any relevant financial or non-financial relationships they have related to the course content. This will generally come in the form of a narrated slide or be provided on course handout materials, if slides are not being used. The instructor is required to provide attendees with any updated relevant relationships that have occurred since their disclosures were provided in course promotional materials.
While you're participating in the course, pay attention to these indicators of evidenced-based CE:
- Is the presenter combining his/her expertise and experience with the best available, current evidence to guide the presentation?
- Is it clear which concepts are rooted in published evidence versus clinical experience?
- Where do the studies discussed fall in terms of level of evidence and study quality?
- Is a theoretical framework or rationale for the approach provided?
- Are specific populations for whom the findings apply addressed?
- Is peer reviewed research provided that supports and/or contradicts the rationale for the course content?
- Are citations provided on the slides or handouts? (A reference list as a final slide or provided to the audience is not sufficient. Information on the slides is directly linked to the references.)
ASHA encourages you to ask questions to help apply some of the basic tenets of evidence-based practice to the material presented in courses. The following questions (titled PROBE Questions) can be a useful tool for you to consider when examining course content in reference to evidence-based practice.
Population: To what patient populations and under what circumstance might this be relevant?
Results: How does the presenter measure results or outcomes?
Objectivity: Does the presenter acknowledge any drawbacks or limitations to what he/she is recommending?
Bias: Does the presenter have any bias or conflicts of interest? Does he/she have anything to gain by convincing you to or not to do something?
Evidence: Is scientific evidence provided to support what the presenter is saying?
At the End of the Course
ASHA Approved CE Providers encourage participants to complete evaluation forms during or after the learning activity. Information derived from these evaluations is an important component of Providers' quality improvement efforts. The next time you participate in an ASHA CE program, please take the time to share your candid, constructive feedback on the evaluation form(s) provided.
Consider the following components of a high-quality continuing education program:
- Handouts—Were they appropriate? Was information current? Were bibliographic references included?
- Instructors— Did they:
- Establish rapport–and maintain the audience's attention? Did they encourage questions and discussion and appear genuinely interested in the needs and concerns of participants? Did they show enthusiasm and generate curiosity? Did they provide and manage feedback appropriately?
- Provide an overview of the program–including the learning outcomes and explain how the audience would benefit?
- Seem knowledgeable and current–citing scientific sources?
- Use appropriate teaching methods–for the stated learning outcomes? Did they alternate methods to appeal to more than one learning style? Did they actively engage the audience throughout?
- Pace their presentation–allowing participants to process the content? Did they summarize and emphasize key points?
- Course assessment tools—Were learning outcomes achieved? Was achievement of learning outcomes based on formal or informal assessment(s)? Were participants encouraged to evaluate the program?
- Learning environment: Did it support the physical needs of learners? Did it support learning? Did it facilitate learner interaction?