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IME/CME Insight

Our approach to effective educational design: From identifying gaps to improving outcomes

May 26, 2022

The importance of the needs assessment in medical education  

Successful continuing medical education interventions are those that focus on predetermined and specific needs (1). Therefore, development of a robust needs assessment is at the core of an effective education program. By highlighting specific practice gaps, the needs assessment determines what the intended audience needs to learn from an educational platform, with the ultimate goal of improving clinical practice and patient outcomes (2). 

Our approach for defining practice gaps and unmet educational needs 

At SES, we perform rigorous needs assessments for all our educational activities to understand the inferred, verbalized, and proven needs for a particular therapy area. We do this by utilizing various methodologies (Figure 1).  

Figure 1. Our needs assessment methodology 

Specifically, we perform comprehensive literature reviews based on systematic literature searches of PubMed, Google Scholar, and appropriate congresses in addition to searches for relevant healthcare professional surveys, existing gap analyses, new methodologies, new indications, and new/updated guidelines. For our existing hubs, we hold biannual discussions with our steering committees of world-leading experts. During these meetings, the steering committees validate our literature review findings and highlight additional needs and gaps that they are aware of from their direct experience in the field. For new programs, we reach out to both healthcare professionals and patients, inviting them for interviews to understand their perspectives regarding the key educational needs and practice gaps affecting a particular therapy area. We also utilize these conversations to try and truly understand why these gaps and needs exist, to enhance our understanding of what needs to change to close these gaps and improve patient outcomes. Further to this, we utilize social media to conduct surveys of our established network of healthcare professionals to explore and validate pertinent educational needs. Through this methodology, we aim to understand the differences between current and best clinical practice and, most importantly, what needs to change to improve practice. All our needs assessments conclude with a list of specific practice gaps, which are derived from our findings and are used in turn to design precise and measurable learning objectives. These learning objectives inform the educational content of our programs and highlight how the program will improve participants’ knowledge and/or skills, and subsequently enhance patient outcomes.​ 

Measuring the effectiveness of our educational content  

Critically, we incorporate evaluation into our programs to test how effective our educational content has been in closing the practice gaps identified in our needs assessment. Moore's seven-level outcomes model underpins our evaluation methodology (3). As such, we assess participation, satisfaction, knowledge, and competence. To measure changes in knowledge and competence, we design pre- and post-activity questions to ascertain whether our specific and measurable learning objectives have been met. The pre-activity test questions are identical to the post-activity test questions, so by using the pre-activity test responses as a baseline, we can measure improvements resulting from our education. Our results are carefully analyzed to produce outcomes reports that help us to understand the effectiveness of our education.  

Feedback to ensure optimized education that continues to improve outcomes 

Our outcomes feed back into our needs assessment process, and this ensures that we are continually optimizing our education (Figure 2).  

Figure 2. The process of effective educational design 

Specifically, we analyze our pre- and post-activity test question responses to understand areas where educational needs are high, as well as whether our education is sufficiently addressing the needs identified in our needs assessment or whether further education is required in specific areas. This approach ensures that we are consistently providing effective education, in areas where it is needed, to improve patient outcomes.  


(1) Shannon S. Education and practice. Needs assessment for CME. Lancet. 2003;361:974. 

(2) Parry NMA. The needs assessment in continuing medical education. Medical Writing. 2014;23(2):125-128. 

(3) Moore DE Jr, Green JS, Gallis HA. Achieving desired results and improved outcomes: integrating planning and assessment throughout learning activities. J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2009;29(1):1-15. 

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