Introduction: A cross over comparison between 'traditional' continuing medical education (CME) activities and portfolio-based learning in general practice is described.
Method: Thirty-two volunteer general practitioners (GPs) were divided into two cohorts; each cohort spent six months following a 'traditional' route to postgraduate educational accreditation (PGEA) and six months following a portfolio-based learning route supported by three CME tutors.
Outcome measures: These were the submission of a completed portfolio with evidence of the completion of learning cycles and participants reflections on the educational process. Qualitative and quantitative evaluation data were collected by questionnaire, semi-structured interview, participant observation and review of completed portfolios.
Results: The themes identified by GPs as hopes for the portfolios were largely fulfilled and the anxieties generally confounded. The flexibility of the portfolio learning process was particularly important to the participants. The breadth of topics covered by the portfolios was extremely wide and comparison with the submissions for 'traditional' PGEA showed a much smaller spread of learning activities and fewer subjects of study.
Effectiveness: The use of the portfolios of critical incidents and the completion of learning cycles with application to practice provided evidence of the effectiveness of such learning. EFFICIENCY: The mean number of hours spent by GPs preparing the portfolios was 24.5 +/- 12 (SD) which was significantly more than the 15 hours of PGEA awarded.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that a portfolio-based learning scheme can meet the needs of GPs relevant to their professional practice; it can give learners control over how, what and when they learn and encourage active and peer-supported learning; it can build personal and professional confidence and be thought both valid and reliable by participants. Learning outcomes can also be reliably assessed by PGEA within the context of an individually created learning plan.