What is a Self-Directed Learning Group?

Self-Directed Learning Groups (SDLGs) are groups of GPs who meet regularly to address their shared development needs, whether educational or through peer support.

They can be very helpful when it comes to appraisal and will help with revalidation, as the groups provide valid educational content that can be recorded and added to your portfolio as evidence of continued learning.

Why join/set up a Self-Directed Learning Group?

  • Continuing professional development: you can choose topics to cover that are most relevant for you and your group, and set your own agendas. Meetings can have a set educational agenda and provide useful learning opportunities, sometimes with speakers from secondary care or the local PCT. You can use expertise from within your group, or adapt other educational tools such as internet based educational modules.
  • To reduce isolation: it gives group members a chance to discuss treatments, case studies and best practice.
  • They offer valuable networking opportunities, bringing you together with other local GPs to share information and support.
  • To generate evidence of continuous professional development for appraisal and revalidation.
  • For convenience: meeting somewhere local to you not only puts you in touch with other GPs in the area, but also allows you to fit the meetings in with childcare and other arrangements.

How can I find out if there is a group in my area?

There is no central register for these groups. It is not always easy to find out of there is a group in your area. If you are working from a practice, you could ask the practice manager. Your local GP Tutor may have details of groups in your local area.  Contact your local Deanery for the details of your tutor.

It could be possible that there is a group, or several groups, in the area but that they are full to capacity. These groups function well when the numbers are smaller, as it gives members a chance to contribute and makes venue arrangements easier.  If this is the case, or if there are no groups, why not start a group of your own?

Getting started was easier than I thought. There was lots of enthusiasm and it was amazing how many people were keen to be involved.  The group is educational, supportive and fun; it is great to set our own agenda and meet with colleagues who soon become friends.

Dr Rosalind Ranson, sessional GP, South West London

Checklist for setting up a Self-Directed Learning Group

We have provided a downloadable checklist for you to use for setting up your own SDLG. Download the checklist here (.pdf), and read on for more detailed information.

1. Decide what you want from the group

  • Do you want a maximum number of members?
  • Do you want to limit the membership to sessional GPs, or invite other healthcare professionals?
  • How often do you want the group to meet, e.g. monthly?
  • Do you want a rotating venue or a fixed meeting place?
  • Would you want involvement/funding from a pharmaceutical company?
  • Do you want members to share responsibility for sourcing speakers/content?

2. Recruiting your group

  • Contact individuals personally if you know them, or through a message to GP practices (this can be done through the PCT or local Deanery). This will be seen by the practice managers, who can then contact relevant members for you. Make sure the message has an email address or phone number that you can be reached on.
  • Hold a preliminary event in your area and send out the invite, as above, and then speak to attendees directly. It could be possible that you get more attendees for the event than can be accommodated in one group. If this is the case, encourage the others to set up their own groups, perhaps based on geographical location.
  • Contact your local GP Tutor or find out if your PCT can contact members for you, directly through the performers list.
  • The National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) may store details of sessional groups in your area. Please note that these are local branches of sessional groups, rather than specific SDLGs.

3. Communicating with your group

It will be necessary to make regular contact with your group, to pass on venue details, cancel or move a meeting, or to discuss the content. If your group is large, or if some of the members are unknown to you, you may not want to hand out personal details. There are other ways to communicate with your group:

  • Set up an email cascade, with everyone’s email addresses, so that you can send a message to all group members.
  • Set up an online group on an existing website, such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
  • Create a new email account for you, to keep group communication separate from your personal/work emails.
  • Would you be happy with people contacting you on your home phone, mobile or through a practice? Decide before you make those details public. You could ask that people only contact you on a certain day, or after a certain time (e.g. Mondays and Tuesdays after 7pm) if that would be easier.

4. Finding a venue

Finding the right venue is crucial for the group. Here are some points to consider:

  • A small group could meet in individual’s homes if the group members are happy with this.
  • Access and parking
  • Size: check with the owners of the building as to how many numbers they allow. Rooms often have size limits which must be stuck to by law.
  • Catering
  • Toilets
  • Cost for hiring the venue
  • A/V facilities: an overhead projector and screen are commonly offered with some venues, and would make it easy for presenters to show slides. Will you ask speakers to bring their own laptops? Your speakers, sponsors or other group members may be able to source a projector and screen for you, if there isn’t one.
  • Fixed location: Will you want to rotate the venue, or stick to the same meeting place each time?

5. Catering

It may seem like an onerous task but there are often small, local caterers that would be happy to provide food, and even heated serving equipment and tidy-up afterwards, for a small fee. If your group accepts donations from a pharmaceutical company, they can often contribute the food, or money towards a food budget. Ask your group members if they know a catering company or local business that could supply the food.

If your group will meet at the end of the working day, members will be hungry and need food to see them through an evening meeting. The decision on what sort of refreshments to provide will depend on the group.

6. Money

What costs might be involved?

A small, home-run group may have no costs other than time and effort. However, a larger group may have some costs involved. Enquire about support from local hospitals, PCTs, Deanery etc.  Explore funding options. Negotiate. A venue may be happy to support local groups without a charge, or for only a nominal fee especially if food will be bought; a large group of doctors coming to a venue may also be seen as a bonus for their business.

Will you need money for photocopying forms/agendas? Could you ask individuals to take it in turns to run the meetings?

Some speakers may charge a fee for their time, or you may wish to compensate them for their time or reimburse travel expenses.

If you need to accept and spend money then it’s worth considering opening a separate bank account, so that the money can be kept separate from personal accounts and you can safely make the account details available to others.

How will this be funded?

Will you collect subs from your members to fund the group? If so, first find out what costs you will incur from your venue, caterers and speakers (if any) and use that figure to work out what you would need from each member.

Will you source funding from a third party, e.g. your PCT? It is always worth making enquiries as there may be funding you are not aware of. You could also contact your local private hospital.

Would you accept money from a pharmaceutical company? Many companies are keen to get some face-to-face time with local GPs and are happy to support groups, through donations or bringing food (sometimes even helping to source speakers). If you do want to accept this help, think about what terms this would be on. Would you be happy for the representative to mingle with the group during a buffet? Would you ask that they just left literature out? Would you want them to stay for the whole meeting, or leave after the buffet?

7. Continuing Professional Development

The aim of these groups is to provide opportunities for CPD. Involve your members in setting agendas and choosing topics. There is a wealth of areas to cover; you could have external speakers, patient examples, group discussions etc.

Create CPD forms for members to complete and keep in their own portfolios. These should include details on the topic covered, what the member has learnt from the session, and the date, time and duration of the meeting.

8. Setting the agenda: content and speakers

Decide on some topics for your group. You probably already have several meetings worth of ideas!  Ask your members what topics they would like to cover. You could all review your appraisal portfolios for inspiration.

Approach local consultants and ask them if they would be happy to speak at a meeting. If so, perhaps sit down with them and decide what areas to cover and how long the talks should be. Most groups prefer to have lots of time for Q&A sessions with speakers, as they find this most useful, so factor in time for this when setting your agenda.

Stuck for inspiration? Have a look at the online learning materials available, read the latest journals or ask your group members.

Bear in mind that if your group meets at the end of a working day, members will be getting tired so try not to overload your meetings. Choose one topic per session, and invite one speaker to the meeting. Once members have networked over the buffet, listened to a speaker presentation and had a group Q&A session, this may be enough.

You may wish to have some sessions that are based on educational topics, and others where the agenda covers political or even local/personal issues to the group. Find out from your members if they would like to have closed sessions, with no external speakers, where they can discuss important matters freely.

9. Keeping up interest and involvement

Keep your members interested and involved with the group. Have rotating chairpersons if you have a chair, or get each member to take ownership of a session, picking topics and speakers. Make sure the topics covered, whether topical or educational, are relevant and useful for the members. Covering topical or political subjects may be very useful for members, to help to keep abreast of governmental changes. Let your group be a forum for members to ask questions of one another, as well as of speakers. Members could do research in their own time, to present back to the group, to encourage discussion and debate.

Regularly evaluate your group. Is it current and relevant? Are members interacting well and able to participate? Are the venue and catering arrangements satisfactory? Are you struggling to find speakers?

10. Further help and advice

As a starting point for further help and advice, we recommend contacting your local Deanery, as well as visiting the NASGP website.