At a time when our ability to detect, treat and manage ocular conditions is expanding exponentially, lifelong learning is no longer optional.
Lifelong learning, now recognised as a necessity for the optometric profession, is “an active process in which a student searches for knowledge and understanding and uses it to meet his/her professional lifetime needs”.1
The requirement for optometrists to understand and treat myopia is a perfect example of why lifelong learning is critical. The options available for myopia management today stretch far beyond a pair of single vision glasses and, thanks to the power of the internet, patients realise this and expect their optometrist to be fully across the many available treatment strategies. Yet if you graduated more than a few years ago, myopia management may not have been part of what you learnt in your training.
regardless of your learning style, to be an effective and efficient lifelong learner, it is important to understand the concept of evidence based practice
So, what is the best way to keep up to date and embrace lifelong learning?
UNDERSTAND YOUR PREFERRED LEARNING STYLE
Individuals learn by different methods referred to as ‘learning styles’. A learning style is the preferential way in which a person absorbs, processes, comprehends and retains information.
It is now generally accepted that there are four learning styles:
- Visual learning
- Auditory learning
- Reading/writing learning, and
- Kinesthetic learning2
Visual learning is when the learner uses graphs, charts, maps, and diagrams to understand particular information. Auditory learners learn better when they hear information in a lecture or in a conversation such as a group discussion. Reading/writing learners like to read, take notes, and translate concepts into words and essays. Kinesthetic learners like the hands-on experience – they like to do things to learn and remember. These days, information is often presented in written form as well as via podcast or audio and at courses or conferences, ensuring there are options to suit different learning styles. Sitting in with fellow practitioners is another option that may help an optometrist to learn.
Determining your own preferred learning style will help you become a more effective learner.
Regardless of your learning style, to be an effective and efficient lifelong learner, it is important to understand the concept of evidence-based practice. This entails understanding the source of the information being read, which is best assessed by appraising its validity, relevance and applicability.
To help practitioners feel more confident in understanding evidence-based practice, I suggest joining the online platform, CrowdCARE, developed by colleagues A/Prof Michael Pianta and Dr Laura Downie at the University of Melbourne (crowdcare.unimelb.edu.au). CrowdCARE is an online tool that teaches research critical appraisal and enables appraisals to be shared among a global community. The platform offers two valuable tutorials on (1) systematic reviews and (2) randomised controlled trials that show you how to appraise articles you might read. Completing these tutorials will help you better target your reading and understand the strengths and limitations of the information you are gathering.
LIFELONG LEARNING IN PRACTICE
Universities now prepare students for lifelong learning by stressing its importance, explaining how learning occurs as part of their courses, and developing students’ problem-solving skills. While students may not embrace the concept of lifelong learning while at University, it is hoped that these skills will help them to develop professionally well into the future.
As an optometrist, you can pursue lifelong learning as part of your everyday practise. Consider again, the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of current myopia control strategies:
You might want to read the literature so that you can better answer patient questions about myopia control – a Cochrane review or a systemic review in a refereed journal on prevention of progression of myopia might be good places to start. Another avenue might be to look for clinical guidelines – the article IMI – Clinical Management Guidelines Report in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (February 2019, Vol.60, M184-M203), authored by Dr Kate Gifford et al, is a good recently produced clinical guideline on myopia.
As an optometrist, you can pursue lifelong learning as part of your everyday practise
You might find an online course, such as those provided by Brien Holden Vision Institute, or Drs Kate and Paul Gifford (academy.myopiaprofile.com/ collections), that will help you to upgrade your knowledge on myopia management. Online communities may also be of interest. If you’re interested in more formalised study, the University of New South Wales has launched the world’s first postgraduate course dedicated to myopia management, which can be taken as part of a Master’s degree or as core components of its new Graduate Certificate in Myopia Management. Less formal opportunities to acquire more information include Dr Gifford’s Facebook group at myopia profile. com. Then there are face to face conferences for optometry, which increasingly offer sessions or even streams on myopia management, providing opportunities to hear from local and international experts.
COMMIT TO LEARN
As well as finding suitable material to help guide your learning, there is one other strategy that is critical to successful lifelong learning – a commitment of time. Successful practices put effort into improving staff knowledge and training by allowing time for optometrists and staff to learn. Knowledgeable staff lead to better patient outcomes, which is the ultimate goal for all.
Anthea Cochrane is a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Optometry & Vision Sciences at the School of Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne.
- UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Annual Report 2013. 2014
- Fleming, N., & Baume, D. Learning styles again: barking up the right tree!, Educational Developments. SEDA Ltd, issue 7.4 Nov 2006, 4-7.