Alliance National Learning Competencies: Why, What and How

By Mary Martin Lowe, Ph.D.

How many times have you been asked, “What do you do?” and when you reply, “I’m in continuing education in the health professions,” you still get asked, “So… what do you do?” If you respond, “I help healthcare professionals learn and improve their performance,” you might hear back, “Wow. That’s interesting. What’s that like?” And then you have a great discussion about the valuable work of CEhp professionals!

Describing the work we do in CEhp to individuals outside of our field can be challenging. It is sometimes equally chal­lenging to answer our own questions about the work we do. When it’s time to write a job description, develop perfor­mance metrics or create a professional development plan for employees, we can find ourselves struggling to articulate the exact skill set that is needed for success in CEhp, partic­ularly at different experience levels. For a CE coordinator new to the field, the knowledge and skill set required will be different from what is needed from a manager, director or vice president. Although different in complexity, the knowledge and skill sets required for success in the CEhp field do center on common areas. And while these common areas are not particularly difficult to describe, the challenge lies in how they manifest themselves at differing levels of CEhp expertise.

Recognizing the need to publish and advance the unique knowledge and skill sets required for CEhp professionals, the Alliance defined—and then refined—the abilities that CEhp practitioners should possess in order to be success­ful. The Alliance’s “Competencies for CME Professionals” was first published in 2003. In 2011, the Alliance for CME broadened its name and scope to reflect changes in the field of continuing education in the health professions. With this broadened scope, the Alliance reviewed and revised its competencies over a more than 18-month process. To do so, the Alliance’s Professional Development Committee formed an interprofessional Competency Workgroup, which engaged subject matter experts in a modified Delphi-process to review and revise the 2003 competencies. The commit­tee selected the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition for the framework for the Alliance’s competencies to reflect the varying levels of skills that professionals develop and pos­sess: novice, proficient and expert.

In 2013, a draft, “Revised Competencies for CEhp Practi­tioners,” emerged from this process. Both the ANCC and ACPE were engaged in reviewing the draft of the revised competencies and confirmed that they were relevant and applicable to educators in the disciplines of nursing profes­sional development and continuing pharmacy education. The Alliance Board of Directors endorsed the revised com­petencies as relevant to CEhp professionals. A membership survey was conducted to assess the perceived relevance of the revised competencies to CEhp practitioners, and survey results indicated that respondents believed that all of the revised competencies were perceived as important and relevant.

The Alliance National Learning Competencies fall into eight areas, as depicted here.

Each area has an overall statement that describes what a CEhp practitioner should be able to do. For example:

Competency Area 1: Use of Adult and Organization­al Learning Principles – CEhp practitioners use evi­denced-based adult and organizational learning principles to improve the performance of healthcare professionals, the healthcare team and the organizations in which they work, in order to improve patient outcomes.

Within each area, there are specific competencies and cor­responding behaviors that can be demonstrated at each of three levels:

Level 1 – Novice/Advanced Beginner
Level 2 – Competent/Proficient
Level 3 – Expert

For Competency 1.1: Apply Adult Learning Principles in CEhp Activities/Interventions and Overall Program Planning, the associated behaviors at each level get more complex. For example, see Table 1.


The complexity evolved in the skill set is made possible through the experience that is gained over time in the field. A novice can acquire knowledge about various adult learning theories and then, over time, identify opportunities within CEhp activities for applying theories and principles. When transitioning to an expert, CEhp practitioners must not only be able to apply what they have learned but also integrate knowledge from various sources, including their experience, into new and modified practices.

It is important to note that expert levels of performance may not be necessary or possible across all competency areas. Experience on the job will heavily influence how a CEhp professional’s skill set evolves over time. It is also important to note that an expert level of skills is not neces­sarily the desired outcome for all CEhp practitioners. Some CEhp positions will require an “expert” in one competency area (e.g., assessment and evaluation), while others may re­quire a skill set that is a combination of two or more levels. The design of the competencies not only allows for a clear articulation of the level of skills needed for a position, but also how professionals can progress through the competen­cies during their career. The competencies can be used in goal-setting and professional development plans in one year and then incorporated into performance metrics the next.


As CEhp practitioners, we know that our unique field is critical to providing quality healthcare. Our work contrib­utes to improvements in healthcare professionals’ perfor­mance. The Alliance Learning Competencies allow us to articulate, to others and ourselves, the distinctive skill set that enables us to facilitate both individual and team-based learning, change and improvement in an ever-evolving healthcare system and regulatory environment. If we strive to develop proficiency in using the competencies, we will support our own professional growth as well as the credibili­ty and recognition of the field of CEhp.

Visit the Alliance website to learn more about the compe­tencies and read them in detail.

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