Continuing Education 101: A Guide to Finding the Right Learning Activities

This is the sixth article in a series of articles by CCCEP about the value of high-quality continuing education for pharmacy professionals, the difference it can make to their practice and careers, and the role accreditation can play in ensuring the quality of continuing education.

Continuing education is critical for pharmacy professionals. Why? To maintain competency and pursue professional development opportunities 1 so that they can provide optimal patient care throughout their careers.

This article presents a comprehensive view of the Canadian continuing education ecosystem for pharmacy professionals to help them find the right learning activities.

Role of Pharmacy Professionals

Pharmacy professionals are performing more roles than ever before. Here’s a high-level overview of the different roles they are performing:

As highlighted in our first article, “ Today’s Pharmacy Professional ”, new standards of care, new therapeutic approaches, and increased accountability are driving the need for new competencies and the advancement of pharmacy practice. 2

Determining your learning needs

There are several approaches pharmacy professionals can use to evaluate their learning needs. To name a few, Walsh 3 outlines:

  • 360° review
  • Critical incident reviews
  • Self-assessment
  • Practice review
  • Observation

Of these, some methods require taking into account feedback from your peers and/or patients, in addition to your personal evaluation. Regulatory bodies across the country have competency assurance programs that help professionals identify their pharmacy learning needs and track their learning. For example, the Ontario College of Pharmacists 4 has a quality assurance program that involves self-assessments, standardized computer-based knowledge assessments, and practice assessments by a College practice advisor at the pharmacy professional’s place of practice.

The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) cycle helps professionals to seek out and pursue pharmacy areas of learning that directly apply to their professional practice and goals. 5 The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) defines CPD as a “self-directed, ongoing, systematic and outcomes-focused approach to lifelong learning that is applied into practice. It involves the process of active participation in formal and informal learning activities that assist in developing and maintaining competence, enhancing professional practice, and supporting achievement of career goals. ”6(p1)

Here are some resources to help pharmacy professionals get a deeper understanding of the CPD cycle and how to assess their learning needs:

Understanding the types of learning activities

The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) 7 categorizes Standards of Practice for Pharmacy Professionals in Canada into five domains based on the knowledge that they require or the activities themselves as follows:

  • Providing care
  • Knowledge and expertise
  • Communication and cooperation
  • Leadership and stewardship
  • Professionalism

A learning activity may fall into one or multiple domains listed above.

Ensuring the quality of learning activities

Quality continuing education enables improved learning and better patient care. 8 Hence, ensuring the quality of a learning activity is important. One of the key approaches to ensuring the quality of learning activities is accreditation.

Accreditation can be described as a “trust-based, standards-based, evidence-based, judgment-based, peer-based process” 9(p5) that can assure all stakeholders that a continuing education activity is a quality learning activity and free of any bias. 8 Julie Toppings, a pharmacy professional featured in one of our articles (“ Julie Toppings: A Life in Pharmacy ”), attributed accreditation for assuring her that what she’s learning is valid, quantified, qualified, and unbiased.

It is important to recognize that non-accredited learning activities may also provide valuable education opportunities. However, with non-accredited learning activities, it is pharmacy professionals’ responsibility to validate the quality of the learning activity, either by taking a critical appraisal approach to the activity’s content, consulting their regulatory body, or by other means. Whereas with accredited learning activities, the accrediting body validates the quality of the learning activity by assessing it against numerous standards and requirements.

Who provides continuing education for Pharmacy Professionals?

From a macro view, here are a few examples of the types of organizations in Canada that may provide continuing education opportunities:

  • Educational institutions, such as universities and colleges
  • Provincial Regulatory Authorities
  • National or Provincial Pharmacy Associations
  • Private Providers (ie, Organizations or individuals that create continuing education learning activities for pharmacy professionals.)

How to find learning activities?

Universities, colleges, pharmacy associations, private providers, and provincial regulatory authorities typically list learning activities on their websites. They may also send regular updates about upcoming activities in their newsletters, publications, blog, or email. Hence, it’s important to contact and connect with these providers to understand how they inform pharmacy professionals about upcoming learning activities.

In addition to the above-mentioned resources, some accreditation bodies, like the Canadian Council on Continuing Education in Pharmacy (CCCEP), offer databases to find accredited learning activities. CCCEP’s database of accredited learning activities can be accessed here:

What are the learning activity formats?

Continuing education is available in a variety of formats to suit different learning styles. CCCEP 10 classifies learning activity formats as:

  • Independent Study Learning Activities
    • These are asynchronous learning activities as there is no direct interaction between the learner and presenter/facilitator or with other learners in real-time. Eg, print, CD/DVD, podcasts, internet (pre-recorded audio or video content, document download.
  • Live Learning Activities
    • These are synchronous learning activities as there is a direct interaction between the learner and presenter/facilitator in real-time. It may involve direct interaction with other learners too. The presenter and learner are in the same room in forums, such as lectures, workshops, or symposia, or via distance education technology, such as audio or video conferences, internet webcast, or synchronous internet conferencing.
  • Blended Learning Activities
    • Include both independent study and live learning activities.
  • Conferences
    • These are primarily synchronous events and involve several sessions and workshops by different presenters, typically on diverse topics.
  • Regularly Scheduled Series
    • A set/series of multiple live continuing health education sessions organized by and meeting the learning needs of a defined group of health professionals. These sessions, which are always synchronous, occur on an ongoing, scheduled basis, eg, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.

Given the increased amount of information for learners, newer learning activity formats like microlearning are helping learners process bigger pieces of information more easily. Microlearning is a learner-centric approach that breaks down larger pieces of information into smaller, intended, and manageable bits of information that learners can process more easily. Learners can access these modules online at their convenience. 11,12,13,14


The continuing education ecosystem offers a diverse range of resources to meet the needs of learners. While pharmacy professionals, regulations, the field of pharmacy, and technology continue to evolve, the continuing education ecosystem is evolving too. Newer learning activity formats like microlearning are changing how learners consume information — making it easier, more strategic, and accessible. The bottom line is continuing education is not just a professional responsibility for professionals but pharmacy also an activity that will help them ensure professional competency, enhance practice and provide improved patient care.

PS CCCEP accredited learning activities are available here:


  1. Continuing education [Internet]. Ontario College of Pharmacists. [cited 2022Oct27]. Available from:
  2. Rouse MJ, Trewet CLB, Janke KK. Advancing learning to advance pharmacy practice. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. 2018;58(2):151–155. doi:10.1016/j.japh.2017.11.002
  3. Walsh K. How to assess your learning needs. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2006;99(1):29–31. doi:10.1258/jrsm.99.1.29
  4. Quality Assurance Program [Internet]. Ontario College of Pharmacists. [cited 2022Oct27]. Available from:
  5. Continuing Professional Development Self-Assessment Tool March 2019 [Internet]. College of Pharmacists of Manitoba. 2019 [cited 2022Oct27]. Available from:
  6. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education [Internet]. Guidance on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for the profession of Pharmacy. 2015 [cited 2022Oct27]. Available from:
  7. Model standards of practice for pharmacists and pharmacy [Internet]. National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities. [cited 2022Oct27]. Available from:
  8. Baumgartner J, Bradley C, Clark B, Janes C, Johnstone E, Rouse M, et al. Global forum on quality assurance in CE/CPD: Assuring quality across boundaries. Pharmacy. 2020;8(3):114-. doi:10.3390/pharmacy8030114.
  9. Drumm S, Moriarty F, Rouse M, Croke D, Bradley C. The development of an accreditation framework for continuing education activities for pharmacists. Pharmacy. 2020;8(2):75-. doi:10.3390/pharmacy8020075
  10. Delivery and learning activity types [Internet]. Canadian Council On Continuing Education In Pharmacy. [cited 2022Oct27]. Available from:
  11. Bell F. Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and actor network theory. In: Networked learning conference 2010: Seventh international conference on networked learning. 2010. 
  12. Cosnefroy L, Carré P. Self-regulated and Self-directed Learning: Why don’t some neighbors communicate? International Journal of Self-Directed Learning. 2014;11(2):1–12. 
  13. Hug T. Mobile learning as ‘microlearning.’ International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning. 2010;2(4):47–57. doi:10.4018/jmbl.2010100104
  14. De Gagne J, Park H, Hall K, Woodward A, Yamane S, Kim S. Microlearning in Health Professions Education: Scoping review. JMIR Medical Education. 2019;5(2). doi:10.2196/13997