Strategies to Maximize Your Online Learning Experience

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In recent years, online medical education content and institutional teaching initiatives have increased, with a wide variety of offerings and innovations. IFM has been on the leading edge of this trend for years, rolling out an array of online, virtual, interactive experiences for clinicians.

Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) Online is IFM’s premier, case-based online course where clinicians have an opportunity to learn the principles of functional medicine and help their patients build resilience and treat the underlying causes of health problems. AFMCP offers a foundation in functional medicine, delivered by world-class clinical educators, and teaches clinicians how to design effective, personalized treatment plans for patients, with a particular focus on advanced history-taking, nutritional best practices, and sustainable lifestyle change. Integrating the simple strategies of modifiable lifestyle factors into a healthcare plan may help patients feel more empowered to take charge of their own health, thereby increasing overall health and well-being.

How can clinicians get the most out of their virtual learning experience in AFMCP Online and gain foundational functional medicine skills? Effective time management is one of the most valuable tools that can help clinicians maximize their takeaways from an online course. Below are four ways to get organized, improve motivation and retention, and make the most out of AFMCP.

Plan ahead & prepare to block out distractions.

Online learners tend to have busy schedules. Many are working full-time, taking care of family, or juggling other commitments. The most successful online students set time aside to focus.

Suggested action items:

    • Have appropriate expectations. Many online courses take a wealth of content and offer it in half the time that an in-person course would take, effectively doubling the pace of the course. Approach your online course with this in mind so that you do not fall behind.
    • Know your resources and ensure that your computer is working well, install any needed software, print out or save course notes and assignments, and verify that your system is up-to-date so you won’t have to spend time on technical issues that should be devoted to interacting with the content.

Engage in interactive learning.

Compared to individual learning that involves independent activities like searching for research studies and reading course materials, researchers have found that interactive learning—which includes communicating with lecturers and fellow learners, engaging in online discussions, and participating in cooperative work—significantly improves academic achievement.1,2

Suggested action items:

    • Take advantage of the IFM-hosted Facebook community, which is your main hub to discuss the course material, ask your colleagues questions, share case studies, and connect with the functional medicine community.
    • Reach out to IFM staff members who will respond to your questions and comments within 24 hours.
    • Take advantage of the short, interactive elements provided during the course.

Use tools to help focus on the educational content.

Although studies are mixed about the exact attention span of learners, in general, lengthening a lecture is inversely correlated with the proportion of material remembered.3,4 Regardless of the length of a lecture, however, learners can take steps to improve memory retention based on individual need. For example, some learners find that doodling helps, while others may take notes or stand periodically to improve retention.4,5

Suggested action items:

    • Take frequent breaks as needed.
    • Use whatever technique you choose (doodling, note-taking, etc.) that helps you process the content deeply to improve retention.
    • After each lecture, write a paragraph describing the objective of the talk, the main points, the conclusions drawn, and three practical takeaways to integrate into your practice.

Practice, practice, practice!

It is one thing to know something in theory and another thing to be able to apply it in context. Repeatedly testing yourself while learning new information (i.e., retrieval practice) is one approach that may help to improve and strengthen the retention of new material.6 Therefore, practicing what you learn in AFMCP as you are learning it can help turn theory into applied understanding.

Suggested action items:

    • Commit to practicing a different functional medicine tool or strategy during each week of the course. At the end of each week, take five minutes to write down what you learned, your patient response, and how you might integrate the tool or strategy into your long-term practice.
    • Stop the video and write down any practical applications that come to mind while you are engaging with the content (example: “I could use that assessment technique on the patient with IBS I saw yesterday.”).

In sum, most students can have a successful online learning experience when they are aware of their individual learning preferences and have strategies to stay motivated and manage their time. AFMCP Online is designed so that all clinicians can not only successfully complete the virtual course but also have an enriching, engaging experience that translates into meaningful changes in clinical practice.
Learn More About Functional Medicine

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  1. Castaño-Muñoz J, Duart JM, Sancho-Vinuesa T. The internet in face-to-face higher education: can interactive learning improve academic achievement? Br J Educ Technol. 2014;45(1):149-159. doi:10.1111/bjet.12007
  2. Surr CA, Gates C, Irving D, et al. Effective dementia education and training for the health and social care workforce: a systematic review of the literature. Rev Educ Res. 2017;87(5):966-1002. doi:10.3102/0034654317723305
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