Networked professional development : towards a model for primary care
Background. Although research has been carried out within higher education circles little is known about any educational benefits that may result from primary care professionals engaging in networked learning and what strategies may be used to overcome barriers to effective learning. Aim. This research was undertaken to identify specific educational strategies which may inform educators wishing to support continuing professional development for healthcare professionals within communication and information technology. Method. A model of networked learning was developed from the literature and using the experience of working models elsewhere. The model was implemented and evaluated over two case studies, and further refined in a third. The evaluation methodology used action research collecting data from surveys, interviews, observer participation, electronic text generated bye-mail discussions, and project documents. Results. Healthcare professionals were able to usefully communicate over a prolonged period with colleagues about clinical and professional matters, developing a number of process skills; using e-mail, web and on-line database searching. Compared to face -to-face small group learning, the added benefit of using e-mail discussions supported by web based learning resources was being able to use the method at a place, pace and time of their own choosing whilst still remaining committed to a shared educational experience. GPs were able to use the educational material to put to-wards a portfolio (personal learning plan) for accreditation for PGEA. Specific roles for an on-line facilitator in addition to small group learning skills were identified. However networked learning is acknowledged to have many obstacles, eg access, using software, lack of support which will need to be overcome. Managing a learning environment for CPO for healthcare professionals involves an integration of the teaching and learning strategy of the host organisation with a networked learning environment. Conclusion. A networked learning environment has the potential of supporting continuing professional development and its assessment with portfolios. For individual participants much depends on there own learning style, what they feel is relevant to learn at the time and their own preferences for a learning format. Much needs to be done to provide the necessary supporting infrastructure and integration of provision across traditional divides within healthcare education. This research describes a number of recommendations, which can inform action by educational stakeholders interested in healthcare education.