In the early days of continuing education (CE) at APA, psychologists had just two choices: Attend a workshop, usually at APA’s Annual Convention. Or read a book and take a test. Those days are gone, says Greg J. Neimeyer, PhD, director of the Office of Continuing Education in Psychology in APA’s Education Directorate.

“There’s now a panoply of possibilities,” says Neimeyer, explaining that APA’s CE offerings are expanding dramatically in both number and type. You can opt for a one-hour training or a more intensive full-day experience. You can attend classes in person or in one of the online “campuses” in APA’s Online Academy, including a new Interactive Classroom that lets users participate in polls, interact with a virtual presenter and even see virtual classmates raise their hands with questions. Next year, you’ll be able to get CE credit for reading certain articles in the Monitor.

The growth in APA’s independent study options is especially striking — and part of a broader trend in education, says Neimeyer. Thanks to technology, he says, users can access CE whenever it’s convenient and save themselves money by not having to take time off and travel to an in-person workshop. And APA’s CE is more interactive than ever before.

“We’re bringing members to front row center on the latest learning technology,” says Neimeyer.

Expanding options

The new options will supplement rather than replace more traditional offerings, Neimeyer emphasizes. The goal? To offer a wide variety of educational materials to fit diverse learning styles.

Having those options is especially important given the younger generation’s attraction to online learning.

“Those we call digital natives, who grew up with the Internet, place a premium on asynchronous, nonlinear kinds of learning that is quick and accessible,” says Neimeyer. “So-called digital immigrants prefer real-life, synchronous, face-to-face learning opportunities.”

APA’s CE options are designed to appeal to both types of learners:

Online Academy. APA’s Online Academy has three campuses, with a wide range of training that varies in length and level of interactivity. One campus consists of four- and seven-hour workshops recorded at APA’s Annual Convention; these programs provide intensive training on ethical and clinical topics. The second campus offers shorter, more targeted professional development presentations. Recorded in a studio, these PowerPoint-based programs last one to three hours and cover both practice and science topics, such as attention-deficit disorder, addictions, trauma, advanced statistical methods and measurement issues. APA’s newest campus is the Interactive Classroom, which features leading experts presenting recent developments in professional practice. Launched over the summer, this campus lets users go beyond watching a presentation to interacting with it.

“The term in the industry is the notion of ‘lean forward,’” says Neimeyer. “You don’t sit back like you’re just passively watching a television; the program requires you to do something to move it forward.” Users might decide to participate in a poll on what kind of bereavement they see most often in their practices, for example, and then review a graph of the responses of all other users to see how their experience compares. They can take notes, download transcripts and explore links. “And periodically a hand will raise on screen as if it’s from someone in the audience,” says Neimeyer. “Users have a choice to click on that icon to get an immediate answer from the presenter. Or they can let it go, and the person will put his or her hand down.” An automatic “bookmarking” feature allows users to pick up where they left off after a break.

End-of-life modules. APA introduced these programs last year in partnership with e-NURSING, Inc. Aimed at psychologists, physicians, hospice volunteers and others who work with people near death, the 10 online modules cover such topics as assessing and treating psychological distress and pain, bereavement, family caregiving and ethical and legal issues. Each of these concise programs offers one to two CE credits.

In-person workshops. APA’s CE office has more than doubled the number of CE sessions it supports at APA’s Annual Convention in the past two years. Special offerings at the convention include the Presidential Hands-On Training Series, which consist of intensive training by experts, and the annual Distinguished Workshop Series, an evening workshop followed by an informal reception where participants can meet the presenter and mingle with each other. For those in the Washington, D.C., area, a monthly Clinician’s Corner workshop series brings together national experts and local psychologists at APA’s headquarters.

Product-based options. APA offers almost 100 book-based CE programs that let users test themselves on their offline reading. There are also DVDs on psychotherapy, plus a variety of online CE articles.

Neimeyer is not stopping there. Coming next year will be a CE feature in each month’s Monitor.

“We’re bringing in highly visible, notable people with expertise in timely topics to write 3,000-word articles in accessible language for a professional readership,” says Neimeyer, explaining that users will read the articles and then go online to take a brief quiz to earn their CE credits.

This new feature brings accessibility to a new level, he adds. “It’s coming to members’ doorstep anyway,” he laughs.

Coming soon?

A 2010 report on lifelong learning in medicine and nursing, published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and Association of American Medical Colleges (www.aamc.org/meded/cme/lifelong/macyreport2010.pdf), has Neimeyer thinking about even more ways to enhance APA’s CE.

“I tend to suffer, as many people do, from hardening of the categories,” admits Neimeyer. The report “has helped me engage in a sort of intellectual angioplasty: I’m trying to stretch my thinking.”

The medical world, for example, is beginning to emphasize CE on interprofessional collaboration. Should APA do the same and develop offerings that teach psychologists about other professions and what’s going on in other fields?

On a technical level, Neimeyer is wondering whether to emulate medicine’s growing emphasis on what’s called point-of-service CE. In such a scenario, psychologists would learn as he or she is engaged in a procedure, intervention or interaction and then document that learning afterwards.

Neimeyer suspects the idea would have tremendous appeal to psychological practitioners. “They’re incredibly busy and looking for ways to integrate learning into what they’re doing rather than having to take time out to learn,” he says.

For more information on APA’s CE offerings, visit APA's Continuing Education.

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.