It’s the beginning of the academic year, and the year stretches before us like a blank canvas. Now is a perfect time to consider your “Learning Plan”.
A learning plan is a bit like a road map: with the “map” you can identify your start and end points, stops on the way, and the best route to take.
Your learning plan will give you an idea of where you are and how much you still need to do to get to your goal. Or you could think of it like an Agenda for a meeting: without an Agenda, the meeting would not cover important discussion points. Without a learning plan, you won’t cover the necessary material.
The thought of a “Learning Plan” sends shivers down the spines of many people. Learning plans get bandied about as a good thing, but are often despised documents that are seen as a clerical task and nothing more. But it does not need to be so! Learning plans can be incredibly useful to ensure that you cover all the curricula areas you need to cover to pass exams, and to become a well rounded GP with no blind spots or black holes in your knowledge. Developing a good learning plan requires insight and reflection, and is enhanced by guidance and support from your supervisor.
You see, an individual learning plan is a useful tool that allows you to develop the full range of knowledge and skills you need to acquire during your registrar training. Working with your supervisor, you can design a learning plan that includes training components of specific value to you in terms of your needs and intended career pathway. Your learning plan can be shaped to suit your personal preferences and goals.
Let’s take a look at 6 simple steps to put together a learning plan that is both useful and meaningful:
Step 1: Identify your learning needs
You will first need to identify your learning needs. From these needs you will be able to formulate goals and develop a learning plan to meet these goals. A very basic and simple way to identify learning needs is using a “Strength and Weakness” table. The first step toward working on your weaknesses is to figure out what they are. (That makes sense, doesn’t it?)
Click here to see an example of a basic table where you can identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Now that you’ve identified your areas of weakness, you can translate those into areas of learning. Jot them down on your learning plan.
Step 2: Specify learning goals
We now need to add some details, as your learning plan now only contains an outline of what areas require attention. You need to be specific about what you want to learn. It’s not useful saying “Women’s Health”. What exactly do you want to learn – gynae conditions or antenatal care or something else? Or “Oncology” – do you need to know more about specific cancers, early detection, investigation or screening? Again, this is where your supervisor can assist with the finer details.
(P.S. “Passing exams” is not a relevant learning goal. You’ll need to consider what specific information you need to gain in order to pass your exams.)
Step 3: Document learning strategies
Okay, once you’ve thought about the specifics, you need to add how it will be learned. Think about how you’ll gain the knowledge you require. This will include identifying learning resources, strategies and supports. These can be books, online resources, online modules, guidelines, courses, conferences, clinical attachments, further work experience, or other strategies I haven’t thought of yet. Consider your individual learning style and your personal attributes to determine a strategy that will work best for you. It’s no use proposing to read a whole textbook when you hate sitting reading and would rather go on an interactive course. If you make learning interactive and enjoyable, it’s always more effective. Your supervisor will be able to help you identify useful resources.
Step 4: Determine Target Dates
So you’ve thought about the specifics, you’ve detailed how it will be learned, and now you need to add a timeline – how long do you intend spending on each objective? If you do not add a time limit, it will take until infinity to complete. Trust me on this one (the evidence supports this, too)!
Step 5: Clarify Competency
Before the Learning Plan is complete you will need to decide whether you’ve attained the desired level of competency. You’ll need to have some way of knowing if you’ve achieved what you set out to do. So consider what criteria will be used to evaluate the learning, or how the learning will be validated. It may be as simple as completing the task set out, like finishing the online module, or obtaining an attendance certificate at a course. Alternatively, you may want to find a relevant questionnaire on the topic covered in the learning activity to prove increased knowledge.
Step 6: Schedule Reviews
Plan regular reviews of your learning plan, as your learning needs will most certainly change over time. Keep the plan updated and current. This will give you a sense of achievement once areas have been mastered, and help keep you on track with things that still need to be learned. An up-to-date learning plan is relevant and useful. It’s suggested that learning plans be reviewed at least every 3 – 6 months (at a minimum).
And that’s it! Pretty simple! You’re now all set to go and learn and convert your areas of weakness to areas of expertise. Developing a learning plan is not meant to be difficult or onerous. Following the 6 simple steps will convert your learning plan to a useful tool to plan your learning and help you achieve your goals.
Save this PDF doc to your computer as a reminder of the simple steps to a useful learning plan!