College of American Pathologists
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  For pathologists, a one-stop shop for learning


CAP Today




February 2012
Feature Story

Ed Finkel

The Learning Portal

CAP members and other pathologists and laboratory professionals have easier access to a broad array of educational content—from the College and elsewhere—with the release last fall of the CAP’s virtual learning portal.

The portal will help some pathologists meet their Maintenance of Certification requirements. But it will be useful for everyone when it comes to the CAP pathology competency model (based on the six MOC categories), providing subspecialty-related learning options and the ability to create a learning plan to track what has and has not yet been achieved or to complete a personal progress check of knowledge in a topic area.

“It gives pathologists the ability to consolidate their learning portfolio,” says Tina Schwartz, learning technology manager for the CAP. “It provides them an online access point to both learning options and tools for planning their learning.”

“It coordinates all of your learning activities into one portal,” says Gail H. Vance, MD, professor in the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at Indiana University School of Medicine, CAP governor, and chair of the CAP Council on Education. “It’s really nice that you just go to one site. You have a catalog of activities to select from to set up your own plan and monitor it. You can also fill in the gaps and see what progress you’re making. The learning portal offers a variety of educational materials—not just courses but books, journals, and other resources to enhance the learning experience.”

Previewed at the CAP ’11 annual meeting in September and launched in October, the portal is directly accessible through the CAP’s website, It is compatible with Apple products like the iPhone and iPad in addition to those that are Windows-based.

The portal centralizes not only all CAP courses but also links to external education and learning resources, including those of pathology subspecialty, international, and clinical laboratory associations. Created by Amirsys Inc., the portal provides a robust search capability for learning content and options, and a variety of learning formats that include live courses, webinars, audio only, slide libraries, and more.

“The goal is to be the one-stop shop for pathologists’ learning,” Schwartz says, noting a steady growth since October in the number of members who are logging in to the portal and using its features.

By linking the CAP’s resources with those of partner organizations, the learning portal will position the CAP as a go-to online access point for learning opportunities designed to help pathologists develop competencies. There are more than 400 such opportunities now, and more are being added all the time.

This ties back to a learning strategy developed in 2010, says Constance Filling, vice president of CAP Learning. “The CAP was taking a chance by stepping outside our current model and saying, this is what we think pathologists and members are going to need in the next three to five years,” she says. “It became clear we needed to step up our game in terms of online offerings. Everybody isn’t going to have the money and time to go to conferences all the time.... We wanted to do something that would be responsive to their concerns, and we wanted to be collaborative with other pathology organizations.”

Some of the learning options available through the portal had been available previously, Filling says, while many new learning options have been added. “There’s already a significant number of courses up and available on the portal.... What’s new is, you can go to an area like breast pathology and it tells you what else is available—articles, white papers, guidelines, as well as materials from other associated sites.”

The portal isn’t built directly around the Maintenance of Certification requirements, but the CAP competency model is aligned with the six MOC categories as defined by the American Board of Medical Specialties. They consist of medical knowledge, patient care, interpersonal and communication skills, practice-based learning and improvement, professionalism, and systems-based practice. “The aim is to have everything all in one place,” Schwartz says.

Dr. Vance expects the site to have particular appeal to residents and to younger pathologists as they work toward Maintenance of Certification, required for those who completed their initial ABP examination in 2006 or later. “They can plug in dates and competencies they need to accomplish by certain times and see how feasible it is,” she says. “We’re providing tools to accomplish their MOC requirements and track their progress. We’re also trying to provide online learning accessible from any location at any hour of the day.”

Veteran pathologists will gain from the specialized knowledge that’s being cataloged, Dr. Vance says. “Let’s say a pathologist 10 years into practice wants to know more about molecular pathology,” she says. “They can go to the catalog, see what opportunities there are, and set up a plan.”

All will benefit from the collaboration with the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute, the Pulmonary Pathology Society, and the Canadian Association of Pathologists. “That is a new thing entirely,” Filling says. “Pathologists don’t want to go to 50 different sites to identify available courses targeted to a specific area. They’d like to be able to see available learning opportunities in one place. By collaborating with other pathology organizations to link to their Web sites, the CAP learning portal is responding to pathologist needs, and that is good for both pathologists and pathology organizations.”

“We’re trying to be more than just the portal of CAP offerings,” Schwartz adds. “As we build the competency model, we’re asking subject matter experts to identify the key offerings, and to the extent we can, we link to those.” That will be a goal throughout 2012, “to build out our content and links.”

The planning tools include My Learning Plan, which enables users to create a checklist of courses they want to take within a certain time. “Another is a personal progress check, based on the competency model for pathologists, that allows them to compare their level of knowledge to target benchmarks established by pathology subject matter experts,” Schwartz says. “Then they can see where they might have some areas for development and use the specific learning options to help narrow the gap.

“As they identify areas they want to focus on, say for the next certification renewal period, ‘Over the next two years I need to get 30 CME credits,’ they can manage it. It could be on an annual basis. It could be a specific need. There really aren’t other tools out there to be used by pathologists in that fashion,” Schwartz says.

Still to come is a tool that will help pathologists and other users keep track of upcoming deadlines. Filling says, “The American Board of Pathology has certain MOC requirements that pathologists must meet every two years. We want to build a tool that will assist individual pathologists by notifying them of looming deadlines and provide information on learning options that may help them meet the requirements.”

The College is seeking input from portal users about the content and functions they would like to see added, Dr. Vance says, and the input can be provided directly on the portal. “We would like users of the portal to give us feedback,” she says. “We need insight into how different pathologists are using the device.... We’ll be interested to see how frequently people are using it and what goals they establish and accomplish.”

Ed Finkel is a writer in Evanston, Ill.