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Module 2


Learning plans

Every resident deserves a learning plan (also known as support plans) that has been mutually agreed upon by the resident and preceptor at the beginning of the rotation. Learning plans provide a mechanism to communicate expectations between the resident and preceptor.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe what a learning plan is and its benefits
  • Write effective learning objectives
  • Create a learning plan

Learning plans

Every resident goes through rotations in a different order and has a unique experience on each rotation. One of the most valuable exercises for the resident is to reflect on their own personal needs. These needs should be recorded in a learning plan, which is a document that explicitly outlines the resident's learning goals for the rotation. Learning plans are fluid and should evolve over the training period to meet changing needs. They reflect agreed upon goals set by the resident and the preceptor at a point in time and require tracking and updating periodically.

Learning plans are not just for residents in difficulty. All residents and preceptors should use them. Learning plans:

  • Provide a mechanism for making expectations explicit.
  • Help residents focus their learning during their residency.
  • Help preceptors plan learning opportunities for the resident.
  • Make it easier for the preceptor to provide quality feedback.
  • Provide a structure for evaluation of the resident.

The University of Ottawa Department of Family Medicine has a tool that can be used to help facilitate the creation of a learning plan: The Academic Support Process - Support Plan. You can download a Microsoft Word version of the template from the Templates and Examples dropdown menu on the Academic Support Process site.

The following table describes the sections of the University of Ottawa Academic Support Process - Support Plan and provides tips for completing each section in the context of a resident at the beginning of their residency:

Section Description Tips for completing
Background Provides an overview of where the resident is in their training and the context for the support plan. Both the resident and preceptor in consultation should complete this section.
Indicates which rotation they are in, an overview of previous experience, the purpose of this learning plan, which support processes will take place, and for what duration.
Learner's strengths Provides an overview of the resident's strengths. Both the resident and preceptor in consultation should complete this section.
Identifies what the resident believes are their strengths.
Issue Identified (also known as goal) A description of the learning goal in the context of a clinical setting. Both the resident and preceptor in consultation should complete this section.
Learning objective The specific learning objective associated with the issue. Both the resident and preceptor in consultation should complete this section.
See the next section for recommendations on how to write good learning objectives.
Learning strategies Identifies the learning strategies that will be used to achieve the learning objectives. Both the resident and preceptor in consultation should complete this section.
See learning strategies grid for a description of possible learning strategies for clinical practice.
Support team Identifies personnel available to support the resident. All personnel who are directly supporting the resident should be listed.
Dates for evaluation Dates should be scheduled for mid-point and final evaluations. Both the mid-point and final evaluations must be performed face-to-face with the resident and preceptor.
Learner comments Identifies any comments that the learner wishes recorded at the beginning of the support period. Ideally, the resident will also be able to comment on their progress as the plan is being implemented and goals are being met. This occurs formally at the mid and final evaluations for the rotation. Residents must be given an opportunity to comment on content, context and feedback that they feel should be included in the plan.
The learner may choose to include additional strategies they will use which are not already documented in the learning plan.

See Appendix A - Learning Plan Example for an example of a support plan for a resident at the beginning of their residency. For examples of support plans for residents in difficulty see Support Plan Examples on the Academic Support Process website.

Writing learning objectives

Learning objectives are specific and measureable statements that describe what the learner is expected to achieve as a result of engaging in a specific learning activity. Learning objectives serve as a "road map". By knowing where you want the learner to end up, you increase the chances of the learner getting there as your teaching can become more focused and organized. By having learning objectives, the learner will also be able to focus and set priorities in their learning efforts.

When writing learning objectives, use the mnemonic RUMBA (you may be familiar with the mnemonic SMART - either works). Learning objectives should be:

  • Realistic. Is this something I would expect for a resident?
  • Understandable. Would a resident know what is expected of them?
  • Measureable. Is there a way to clearly identify whether the objective has been successfully met?
  • Behavioural. Is the objective written in a manner that allows the expected performance to be clearly observed?
  • Achievable. Is the objective achievable given the time and resources available with the demands of the resident's current work?

The most critical part of writing learning objectives is choosing an appropriate verb. See "Learning objective verbs" for a list of appropriate learning objective verb

A learning objective has three parts:

  • Behaviour: What will the resident be able to do after the learning activity?
  • Criterion: At what level must the resident be able to perform?
  • Condition: Under what conditions/in what environment will the resident be expected to perform?


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