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Acad Psychiatry. 2004 Fall;28(3):215-20.

The adult learner rediscovered: psychiatry residents' push for cognitive-behavioral therapy training and a learner-driven model of educational change.

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Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University, Room 6516 Abbie Lane Building, 5909 Veterans' Memorial Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.



This study surveyed residents' experiences learning an emerging area of demand in psychiatry at a time when there is a lag in training resources. Unexpectedly, the data generated useful evidence in support of adult learning theory. The result is a post hoc examination of learner attitudes and activities during the spread of a new medical content domain. Implications of the results for adult learning theory are considered.


A survey evaluating interest, motivation, perceptions, and barriers toward learning cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was given to 85 psychiatry residents at a single institution, with a 95% return rate and even distribution across years of training.


The vast majority of residents were highly interested and motivated to learn CBT. One hundred percent considered CBT clinically useful, and 99% anticipated using it in future practice. Consistent with the model of adult learning theory, reasons for seeking CBT training tended to focus on personal interest (86%), motivation (81%), and opinion of its clinical usefulness (68%). Only a minority considered training requirements a motivation for seeking training (44%). The most commonly reported difficulty in gaining exposure to CBT was supervisor availability (65%).


Residents exhibited qualities of adult learners for whom personal interests were more important than training requirements with regard to seeking training in new modes of treatment. In the wake of recent theoretical scrutiny of adult learning and its applicability to undergraduate medicine, these results suggest that postgraduate medicine might be uniquely suited to the study of adult learning theory.

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