Reality CE: Learning from Teaching

By Pesha Rubenstein, MPH, CHCP, Director of Education, AMIA

Q: Is there value to my learners for my ACCME-accredited organization to provide learning from teaching activities?

In the 17th century, British vicar Benjamin Whichcote wrote, “There is no better way to learn than to teach.”

In 2006, the Accreditation Council for Medical Education (ACCME) clearly endorsed Whichcote’s aphorism and created the learning from teaching activity format. The ACCME’s approval of learning from teaching as a CME format is a corollary to the American Medical Association’s (AMA) recognition within the Physician’s Recognition Award of direct credit for teaching.1

On its website, the ACCME defines learning from teaching activities as “personal learning projects designed and implemented by the learner with facilitation from the accredited provider. Learning from teaching represents a range of activities in which an accredited provider can facilitate practice-based learning and improvement — where the ‘practice’ could be the person’s professional ‘teaching practice’ or ‘clinical practice’ or ‘research practice.’”2


The ACCME provides a wealth of resources on the learning from teaching activity format. Required reading for any provider planning to offer this format is the ACCME’s Learning from Teaching: Activity Planning Tutorial.

Takeaways to remember:

  • Learning from teaching is like any other activity a CME provider plans, and it must fulfill ACCME accreditation criteria.
  • The CME provider must analyze the outcome(s) of the activity.
  • CME providers needs to document that they were in control of creating a fully compliant activity, and must be prepared to demonstrate compliance in self-study performance-in-practice files.

Learning from teaching is a format that recognizes how much time faculty spends preparing to teach. The emphasis, however, is not on the amount of time the faculty member spends compiling his or her presentations. The emphasis is on what the faculty person actually learns in the process of preparing the presentation for practitioners.

The value of CME providers offering this format to their learners is that they create a closer relationship between themself and the learners. How often have we heard that staying on top of published literature in medicine is like drinking from a firehose? By providing educational resources for learners who teach, CME providers can focus on advances in knowledge, one drink at a time.

The ACCME’s examples focus on discrete updates that faculty must make in order to competently teach others.

Recent learning from teaching activities focused on the Ebola and the Zika viruses. As nonclinical aspects of medicine change, faculty may use the learning from teaching format to account for the time used to prepare for their presentations that may include information on topics like reporting changes due to the Affordable Care Act, using a system like REDCap for clinical trial research or identifying components of a patient portal that could enhance the therapeutic alliance.

CME providers could ask their learners in teaching positions (e.g., department heads or leaders of urgent care clinics) what tools the CME office could offer to help these physicians relay new information to colleagues. By working with their CME departments, these leaders could develop their teaching materials to a point where they become confident enough to teach masterfully about the subject. Through use of the learning-teaching-planning tool described on the ACCME website, providers have access to the necessary documentation for their files.

Over the years, implementation of the learning from teaching activity format has dropped precipitously from its apex of 2,207 activities provided in 2008, completed either through direct or jointly provided activities. Figure 1 is a graph showing learning from teaching activities, based on data provided by the ACCME annual reports. One can only speculate as to the reasons why so many activities in this format were provided from 2007 to 2008.

Undoubtedly, learning from teaching occurs with each new medical advancement, as teachers and learners engage in professional development. Perhaps CME providers could reinvigorate this activity format by using online tools to simplify the documentation process, reminding their learners that this is an activity through which faculty learners are able to earn more credit or planning the learning from teaching activity as an MOC-II activity. Note that the AMA’s teaching at a live activity is a different kind of activity, for which the CME provider or the AMA directly awards credit. Teachers may claim credit only for teaching at a live CME activity, they may receive as credit twice the number of hours of actual teaching and earn this credit only once for a repeated presentation. Consult the direct credit information on the AMA website3, or the Physicians’ Recognition Award and credit system booklet.


  1. Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. Applying the ACCME Requirements to CME Activities Based on Teaching Medical Students and Residents. 2013. Accessed March 2, 2016.
  2. Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. How does the ACCME define a learning from teaching activity? Accessed March 2, 2016.
  3. American Medical Association. Direct Credit. Accessed March 2, 2016.
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