[March 05, 2015: Updated eighth paragraph correcting information about example using an inhaled nitric oxide device.]

Education and training are important elements in professional development, as clinicians seek to stay abreast of advances in the field and advance their career success. While webinars, lectures, and self-study courses may be useful techniques to increase knowledge, an education method known as participatory learning may have a more long-lasting impact on the ability to acquire and retain new material.

In the early 1980s, Jane Vella, a former Maryknoll Sister (a Roman Catholic missionary organization), built upon her academic experience of 25 years teaching participatory learning and developed a series of training courses that became known as Dialogue Education. This technique shifts the focus from the trainer to the learner and addresses cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.

The model emphasizes teamwork; small groups interact, discuss, and engage in purposeful dialogue, then share insights with the larger group. The learners are challenged and supported by compassionate, creative, skilled, responsive and attentive trainers who maximize learning.

Theresa McGauley-Keaney, MPA, RRT, program monitor and trainer, respiratory care consultant, UMass Medical School in Worcester, Mass, became formally trained in Dialogue Education and adopted the format as her training tool of choice at UMass. She has used this technique for a range of audiences, from respiratory therapists who work in clinical settings to hospital leadership. “The premise is that people learn more through participation and [dialogue], rather than just sitting and listening,” she said.

During a Dialogue Education seminar, trainers do a minimal amount of talking and may do a PowerPoint Presentation and distribute handouts, but their most important responsibility is to encourage dialogue in a program that is “relevant, immediate, kinetic, visual and encompasses past experiences.” McGauley-Keaney explained that the participants break into small groups to discuss a situation or issue then brainstorm ways to solve the problem, based on their own experiences.

“There is a kinetic element to the exercise,” she said. “They learn as much if not more from each other. Basically, they are so invested on so many different levels and [tend to] retain the information. It’s extremely effective, especially for busy people. Upon completion of the program, learners leave with something to think about and something to do.”

Before conducting a training for respiratory therapists, McGauley-Keaney suggests that department managers survey the intended audience to obtain feedback. “This way you get a feel for what they want and need to know,” she said. The trainer is then able to focus on the main “pain point” and design a training that addresses that specific issue.

For example, respiratory therapists are sometimes responsible for using a nitric oxide device with patients. Therapists unfamiliar or inexperienced with the device may need some training in how to use it correctly. If McGauley-Keaney conducted a seminar on this topic, she would bring along a nitric oxide machine on which the therapists could demonstrate their techniques. In small groups, the therapists would discuss their experiences with the device, challenges they might encounter and how they would solve them. The entire audience would then share their insights and put their newfound knowledge into practice on the device. When she trains respiratory therapists in seminar situations, McGauley-Keaney measures their competency at the end of the session.

McGauley-Keaney emphasized that Dialogue Education is not about the trainer, but focused on the trainee. “It’s important that everyone be at the same physical level, so the trainer should be sitting during the program. The facilitator, or trainer, can go from one group to another, but should not ever be above anyone,” she said. “The learning comes from each other. The group can’t be daydreaming, but must be involved.”


Phyllis Hanlon is a contributing writer to RT. For further information, contact [email protected].