Learning at a distance: the case of the community pharmacist
The article, written jointly by a provider and an evaluator of distance learning, begins by highlighting recent increased interest in continuing professional development. In particular community pharmacists' needs for continuing education are examined against a background of their changing role. The authors then report the findings from a one-year evaluation of distance learning materials produced and distributed by the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education at the University of Manchester. The evaluation, undertaken by a team from the Scottish Council for Research in Education, was conducted in two phases: first, a national survey of registered pharmacists, and second, a series of focus group meetings with practising pharmacists. By separating high, low and non-users, a picture of professional use of distance learning, the influence of mediating factors and the inter-relationship between personal motivation and design emerge. Some of the findings challenge the current orthodoxy (see for example, Lewis 1995, Burt 1997, Burt and Simpson 1998, Bennett 1998) which underpins distance learning. Finally, changes made as a consequence of the evaluation are indicated, showing how research can influence practice.