The value of small group learning: an evaluation of an innovative CPD programme for primary care medical practitioners


M de Villiers, School of Public and Primary Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, PO Box 19063, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa. Tel: +21 9389035; Fax: +21 9389558, E-mail:


Introduction  A ‘competence’ model of CPD using facilitated small groups covering a range of clinical topics is an alternative model to lecture-based CPD. The aim of this study was to evaluate a new small group CPD programme and to determine whether the anticipated improvements in the quality of learning were realised.

Method  A nominal group technique (NGT) was used to compile two questionnaires for participants and facilitators, respectively, seeking quantitative and qualitative information. The NGT is an effective tool and particularly useful in developing questionnaires to evaluate an educational intervention.

Results  The results of the participants' survey indicated broad agreement with the NGT responses. For small group participants personal time constraints was the main reason given for not attending. 91% of the respondents indicated that the small group programme improved their knowledge, 73% indicated improvement in their patient care and 61% that their clinical skills had improved. Learning practical skills and the ability to identify and focus on specific learning needs of participants were strengths of the small groups. Participants valued the ability to deal with one theme in-depth over a number of weeks rather than many topics superficially in didactic lectures.

Conclusion  The introduction of the small group CPD enabled an important shift from an update to a competence model of CPD, which has been shown to be more likely to lead to useful change in clinical practice. This approach to CPD should be encouraged. The main challenge for future research in this area is to assess the impact on clinical practice and health outcomes.