Motivating learning and assessing outcomes in continuing medical education using a personal learning plan


  • Virginia A. Reed PhD, MPH,

    Corresponding author
    1. Research Associate Professor of Community & Family Medicine and Psychological & Brain Sciences, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and Dartmouth College, and Director, Center for Program Design & Evaluation at Dartmouth
    • 46 Centerra Parkway, Suite 330, Lebanon, NH 03766
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  • Karen E. Schifferdecker PhD, MPH,

    1. Research Assistant Professor of Community & Family Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and Director, Office of Community-Based Education and Research, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
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  • Mary G. Turco EdD

    1. Assistant Professor of Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Director of the Center for Continuing Education in the Health Professions and of Continuing Medical Education at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
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  • Disclosures: The authors report none.



Although there is increasing focus on provider behavior change as an outcome of continuing medical education (CME), it has long been known that an increase in knowledge alone is rarely sufficient to induce such change. The Personal Learning Plan (PLP), designed to motivate and assess CME learning, was partly derived from SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely), a concept well supported as a strategy to promote behavior change. The goal of this study was to explore the relationship between SMART goals developed after attending a CME conference and subsequent provider behavior change, using the PLP as a tool.


PLPs were used as the outcome measure for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Continuing Medical Education conferences conducted during the fall of 2010. Three months later, participants were asked how close they were to completing their goals. All participants' goals were analyzed according to SMART criteria.


Of the 841 participants attending conferences in fall 2010, 347 completed a PLP. An independent t-test found that among the 125 participants who completed the follow-up survey, those who indicated that they had completed their goal or were “very close” or “extremely close” to completing their goal wrote SMARTer goals than those who reported being “not at all close” to “moderately close” to completing their goal (t = 2.48, df = 123, p = 0.015).


Our results corroborate previous research that has found “use of specific strategies to implement research-based recommendations seems to be necessary to ensure that practices change.” Future directions include both a study of use of a PLP compared to a simple intent to change document and work on helping participants to write SMARTer goals.