A learning plan is a document designed to help you reflect upon and structure your learning for success in examinations and your career in general practice. A learning plan is based upon self-reflection and an objective evaluation of your skills and knowledge. It also specifies which learning techniques will work best for you in improving your skill and knowledge base.
In a learning plan, you should document:
- what you need to learn
- how the proposed learning relates to your clinical competence
- what is the best method(s) for you to learn
- how you will demonstrate that you have learned
- a schedule that will allow you to complete your plan in the required timeframe.
Developing a good learning plan takes time and effort. The quality of your learning plan is directly related to the level of reflection and rigor that goes into its creation.
Ideally, you would review and update your learning plan at regular intervals so it stays relevant to your changing needs. In this instance your plan as to how you will show that learning is occurring at your intended rate and scope is vital. Discussing your initial learning plan and its periodic reviews with other doctors as well as your supervisor, senior colleague or medical educator can add to the success of your plan.
A learning plan aims to:
- place you at the centre of the learning process, and use your current practice as the basis of learning
- assist you to make informed choices about your education needs
- assist you to integrate theory and practice into your work
- enhance your motivation to learn and to ask appropriate questions of yourself and others
- encourage you to regularly review your learning needs
- encourage you to share your learning experience with peers.
Without a well-considered learning plan, referring closely to your ‘Section 6 Self-Assessment – Domains of general practice’, you may not be granted just cause to enrol in the same exam segment after multiple failures.
AFP Australian Family Physician
CHECK An independent learning program produced by the RACGP
RACGP Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
3.1 Understanding your learning needs
The first step to building a learning plan is a learning needs assessment. If you have completed a just cause application in the past, you have already completed such an assessment. If you have not, a learning needs assessment is available from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) in the just cause application in ‘Section 6 Self-Assessment – Domains of general practice’. By building your learning plan in response to the needs identified in your assessment you can focus your ongoing educational activities to meet your personal requirements.
The learning needs identified in your self-assessment should be grouped into areas of need. An area of need may be a broad set of skills, such as ‘Communication skills’ or ‘Time management’, a knowledge area such as ‘Neurology’ or ‘Paediatric medicine’, or an area of structure such as undertaking a patient history. Areas of need should not be too broad or too narrow: for example, ‘Examination technique’ or ‘General Practice’ is too broad, while ‘Examination of the knee’ is too narrow.
3.2 Defining topics to be covered
Areas of need are subdivided into topics for learning. For example, the knowledge area ‘Neurology’ may be broken into the topics ‘Diagnosing and managing neurological disorders’, ‘Headache’, ‘Parkinson’s disease’, ‘Dementia’, and ‘Neurological examination – upper and lower limb’. Topics to be covered should be selected with reference to your learning needs assessment and prioritised appropriately.
3.3 Choosing educational activities
It is important that a variety of educational activities are selected and that you choose the educational activities which suit your learning needs best. Some topics are well suited to learning from face-to-face courses, while others may be studied from reading the literature or attending online courses.
In creating your learning plan, it is important that you reflect upon past activities and modify your plans according to what worked and what did not. If previous preparation attempts for exams focussed entirely on reading and self-directed learning, it is important that the new learning plan should explore different techniques, such as having discussions with medical educators, attending study groups, or observing experienced colleagues’ practices.
It is rarely appropriate for all topics on a learning plan to be addressed using the same techniques, regardless of how valuable those resources may be. While activities such as reading Murtagh’s General Practice or Australian Family Physician (AFP) are helpful to many doctors, these resources must be complemented by other learning techniques.
3.4 Creating a timeline for your learning plan
A learning plan is a framework for continuing education. Where timelines are included, these timelines should be realistic. Not all topics can be covered at the same time, and it is rarely wise to study every topic on your learning plan, every day, for the entire duration of the plan. Effective learning plans will chart a progression of topics across the span of the plan. As items are scheduled for completion, new items will be scheduled to start.
For learning plan which guide learning to a particular date, such as an exam date, the entire time period between the creation of the learning plan and the exam should be used. It is better that you finish studying some subjects immediately before the exam than finishing everything long in advance and having a large block of unstructured time. Timelines do not need to be specific down to the day, but should have enough detail to allow you to track your progress against the planned timelines and adjust appropriately.
3.5 Selecting evidence that topics have been covered
In selecting evidence that topics have been covered it is important to consider the difference between studying and learning. Keeping a log of hours spent reading is evidence of study, while sharing your knowledge with a senior colleague is more likely to demonstrate that the topic has been learned. Wherever possible, assess your learning as you progress through your learning plan. Group study sessions and having your practice observed by senior colleagues are excellent ways of having your knowledge assessed.
In the absence of a study group, you could also gain feedback from online self-assessments such as the RACGP’s CHECK program. Choosing appropriate measures to evaluate your own learning enhances motivation as you can see the success of your learning plan, and allows you to identify and rectify areas of weakness quickly.
3.6 Reviewing and revising your learning plan
The learning plan is an evolving document, and its success is critically dependent upon ongoing selfreflection. As you progress through your learning plan you should be constantly re-assessing your learning needs. What have you learned quickly? What techniques have worked well? Have any areas been more difficult to learn than anticipated? Are your timelines still appropriate, or can you move quickly through some areas to focus on others?
In addition to self-reflection, learning plans benefit greatly from collaboration with senior medical professionals. Sharing and analysing your learning plan with your medical educator, supervisor, mentor or a senior colleague can help you refine your goals, find more effective learning techniques, and understand which techniques work best for you.