Applying a social theory of learning to explain the possible impacts of continuing professional development (CPD) programs

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Background: Continuing professional development (CPD) is essential for life-long learning of health professionals, yet evaluations of CPD focus on a narrow range of impacts. This study explored the range of impacts that are possible from attending CPD programs that foster social learning, and applied Wenger’s social theory of learning to explain why these impacts occur. Methods: Twenty semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of past participants from two immersive CPD institutes. Inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Results: Five themes were identified; (i) growing and utilising a network of like-minded individuals, (ii) forming stronger identities, (iii) applying learnings to practice, (iv) obtaining achievements and recognition, and (v) going beyond the scholar. Participants described experiencing both immediate and sustained impacts as a result of attending the courses. Concepts from Wenger’s social learning theory including peripheral membership, reification and multimembership helped to explain why these impacts occur. Conclusions: The results suggest that a range of sustained impacts are possible as a result of attending CPD programs, but ongoing social learning is crucial to achieving these impacts. The social process of learning should be considered in the design of future CPD.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Teacher
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 24 Jul 2020


  • Continuing education
  • continuing professional development
  • faculty development
  • health professions education
  • impacts
  • qualitative research

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