by Richard D. Roblee, DDS, MS, and Janice McCormick, EDD

Digital portals for interdisciplinary collaboration are the key to continuing education

Most professionals believe that study clubs and groups compose the single biggest learning experience outside of dental school. Unfortunately, the majority of these clubs and groups do not last more than 2 years because of the related burdens of time and administrative tasks. Conversely, a Web-based study-club platform can provide the digital portal for communication and organizational structure necessary to facilitate individuals meeting online or face to face.

Participating in study clubs is one of the most cost-efficient and logical learning approaches to quality dentistry. Club components in a Web-based structure maximize self-directed and group learning events, accelerating professional development.

Patients both deserve and demand quality treatment care. Interdisciplinary collaboration is vital to the delivery of exceptional diagnostic and treatment results. Study clubs and groups promote the shared knowledge, fellowship, and collaboration essential to reaching those treatment goals.

Study clubs provide a safe learning environment in which peers can actively participate in problem-based learning activities. An optimal study-club format builds camaraderie, maximizes professional growth, and improves clinical skills. A Web-based module affords advanced digital input and conferencing options for case review and discussion that proves ideal for alumni groups, dental schools, research, and other focus groups.

Ninety-five percent of dentists now have computers in their offices. Of that, almost half are networked, and an estimated 87% have access to the Internet. As more and more orthodontists consider going paperless to maximize their digital-equipment purchases in their practices, shared learning options exponentially unfold. Within a Web-based study club using advanced security measures, digital text, images, and radiographs can be easily incorporated with online case studies that are easily accessible, user-friendly, and economical to maintain for clubs. 

For study clubs to thrive, they must emphasize problem-based learning activities that are collaborative, integrated, and interdisciplinary, using small groups in a clinical context. Again, more study clubs fail than are started each year. Some of the contributing factors include administrative burdens, founder burnout, changes in leadership, time conflicts, lack of worthwhile material, resistance to change, and lack of structure.

Additionally, factors contributing to the failure of Web-based study clubs include slow Internet-connection speeds and technologically challenged members.

Recent articles, polls, and interviews with club organizers indicate that some of the factors related to long-term study-club success include strong leadership; mandatory attendance; charging a member fee regardless of actual attendance; the quality of speakers; having a portion of the meeting dedicated to socializing; up-to-date subject matter; specific outlines for all seminars and groups; a set meeting time and place; and a written vision, mission, constitution, and bylaws.

Additionally, factors contributing to the success of Web-based study clubs include a low entry cost for study-club setup and maintenance, and a low monthly fee for club members to communicate and collaborate.

Recognizing that club success is dependent on member participation, some global thoughts for club organizers to consider include:

? Be committed to adult learning theory and the value of lifelong learning. 

? Be a source of learning in a professional, friendly, environment.

? Provide activities that promote increased clinical knowledge and skills.

? Provide a repeating opportunity for professional development.

? Promote friendships with other colleagues and their spouses.

? Support the development of a circle of professionals for referrals.

? Provide information about new products, new techniques, and new procedures.

? Become a source of industry-related opinions of peer professionals.

? Promote collaboration and coordination of complex cases.

? Promote small groups with a high degree of loyalty and lifelong membership.

In conclusion, a study commissioned by Capella University found that while people see education as a top priority, busy schedules (42%) and family and travel commitments (10%) keep them from participating in continuing-education events. Affordable technology and bandwidth negate these issues through Web delivery. If you are not participating in a Web-based study club already, you will be in the next several years. Real-time communication is critical in today’s economy, and Web-based services provide an integrated communication portal. Without question, more people can be reached more effectively and in less time through interactive meetings and presentations over the Internet. Integrated Web conferencing opens the door for Web-based study clubs that “virtually” eliminate geographical boundaries.

Richard D. Roblee, DDS, MS, is the author of the textbook Inter-disciplinary Dentofacial Therapy: A Comprehensive Approach to Optimal Patient Care. He is an associate clinical professor at Baylor College of Dentistry, and has a full-time practice in Fayetteville, Ark. He is cofounder of the interdisciplinary digital network TeamLINKS (division of RxDDS).

Janice McCormick, EdD, serves as the National Study Club Director for TeamLINKS. With more than 10 years of specialization in corporate training and development, Dr McCormick oversees the service strategy for teams looking to fully use the TeamLINKS clinical records and study-club options.