Adult Learning Theory: Essentials for Better CME Outcomes

essentials for better cme outcomes

As you create your CME courses, you might be wondering if you have everything you need in order to make them complete and successful in every way for your learners.


To make your CME successful, consider taking on board the use of adult learning theories. To help you out, there are a number of adult learning theories available that can provide you with ways to drive your CME forward.


That being said, not all adult theories can be applied to all learners.


In this blog post, we’ll highlight the essentials for better CME outcomes through the introduction of the adult learning theory.

Choose the Best Adult Learning Theories for Your Learners

In today’s learning environment, there are many different adult learning theories. Should you be using all of them when you design your CME content? In a word, no. What you do need to do is choose the best theories that match your learners specific needs and styles. What might work for one group of learners won’t necessarily be the best fit for other groups. So plan accordingly and be ready to embrace everything that are adult learning theories as the essentials for better CME outcomes.


Determine What are the Essentials for Better CME Outcomes


As we alluded to a moment ago, multiple adult learning theories exist, and have done so for decades, coming to the forefront with the work of American educator Dr. Malcolm Knowles. Knowles determined that adults learn in much different ways than children. His theory of andragogy presents several principles as to how adults learn. From the most basic standpoint, andragogy shows that:


  • Adults must take part in their learning’s planning in that they want to control the techniques and goals in that learning.
  • Adults’ lifelong experiences and knowledge must serve as the basis for their learning and the activities planned for them.
  • Adults are most interested in learning about topics that have direct relevance to their personal and/or professional lives.
  • Adults are focused on content that solves their problems.
  • Adults are results-oriented; they want to know the “whys” and “whats” they must do to learn.
  • What will they be taught and how can they connect the new knowledge?

When you work toward the use of the adult learning theory to become the essentials for better CME outcomes, you benefit your learners with the ability to learn within their own styles and needs. Let’s touch on various types of adult learning theories.

Use Various Types of Adult Learning Theories


As you plan your CME courses, you’ll find that your learners will require various elements in order for you to leverage the adult learning theory. Consider these for better CME outcomes in your program.



Cognitivism enables learners to benefit from instruction that aids in their ability to process the information that’s presented. This adult learning theory focuses on the inner activity and mental process of the mind. 

Learners benefit from your organization of proper CME education that aids in their problem-solving skills. They will apply the material from their CME education to ongoing and future practices and be motivated to learn more. Using this adult learning theory essentials for better CME outcomes, your learners will:

  • Process, store, and retrieve information.
  • Use their short and long term memories.
  • Require content that provides visuals and graphics.


In constructivism, learners build new knowledge and actively construct and link their prior knowledge and skills with new information, thereby incorporating these new experiences into their new knowledge base. It enables the acquisition of their new continuing medical knowledge from their instructors and active, social activities. With constructivism, learners take the knowledge presented, and constantly construct and reconstruct it.


Experiential learning

For learners, experiential learning is not only learning by doing but comes as a result of reflection and taking action based on their experiences which in turn is brought into the current CME topics presented. Psychologist David Kolb broke experiential learning into four cycles:

  • Self-reflection
  • Active involvement
  • Conceptualizing the experience 
  • Using the knowledge learned from it in real life. 

Through experiential learning, learners are engaged and given a reason to learn.


Self-directed learning

In self-directed learning, researchers have found that approximately 70% of learners use this method for their education. And in returning to Knowles work, he found that learners receive their education through planning, carrying out, and evaluating their own learning experiences, that is, they make decisions about the content. They decide what learning they require, predetermine the goals and resources available, and then evaluate their outcomes. Learners then bring the knowledge into their everyday lives to learn at their convenience.


Adult Learning Theories for Better CME Outcomes


As we have seen, adult learning theories play major roles in the education of your learners. They address the styles and needs of individual learners, which drive your development of CME content that fits these requirements and results in better CME outcomes.


EthosCE helps provide the tools you need. An enterprise-grade learning management system (LMS), EthosCE hosts content such as text, audio, and video formats such as webinars, podcasts, live streaming video, enduring materials, and other interactive content. You can also leverage pre- and post-course assessments to analyze if there are any gaps in your learners education. EthosCE provides you with the means to offer these different content formats so your learners will experience the best learning outcomes possible.

To learn more about how you can incorporate adult learning theories into your CME, schedule a free 1-on-1 demo with one of our specialists today!