To Design a Learning-Centered Session, use these strategies.

  Start with the end in mind
  Start with the end in mind

Ask yourself: "What is my “end?”

  • What should participants know or be able to do after engaging in your session? What are the objectives for your presentation? What are you trying to help participants learn?
  • Is your “presentation” one of several presentations within a larger session? What are the goals of the larger session? How does your presentation fit into the larger session? How does it relate to other presentations?

Once you have the end in mind, remember that in order for learning to occur, you need to (1) help learners access their own relevant and accurate knowledge and (2) connect your content to learners’ schema. Schemas are knowledge constructs that help us organize information and know how to do things. Schemas are also referred to as mental models – “representations of some domain or situation that supports understanding, reasoning, and prediction.”1


  1. Gentner, D. (2001). Psychology of Mental Models. In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, (Smelser, N.J & Baltes, P.B, eds). Pergamon, Oxford. p. 9683-9687.

Ask yourself: "What’s the best way to get to my end (meet my objective(s)?"

  • What content do you need to cover to help learners meet the objective(s)?
  • How much time do you have? How do you fit in only content that is most needed to meet your objective(s)?

As faculty, you have a specified period of time to get to your end and help learners develop new knowledge. Focus on how to help learning occur and meet the objective(s) of your presentation.

A key strategy to ensure learners make connections that initiate learning is to provide the right amount and right kind of information. Don’t overwhelm learners with information and don’t share material that is not germane to your objective(s). In keeping with Cognitive Load Theory2, when we get too much information or extraneous material that is not relevant, it is difficult to actually learn.


  1. Chandler, P. & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive Load Theory and the Format of Instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8(4), 293-332.
Tip

Faculty Tip: Create a structure for your presentation that is based on your objective. Stick to that structure with your slides and your presentation. The structure will help you stay true to the right amount and right kind of information to help learners get to the end you have in mind.

Video Examples

Who Should Get Extended Anticoagulation (1:00)
Faculty: Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, FACC

In this video, Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, FACC starts with a case (draws upon learners’ experiences) and then presents three questions that serve as the structure for his presentation. The structure helps Dr. Barnes focus on the right type and amount of content.

Faculty: Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, FACC

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The Asymptomatic Patient - Coronary Calcium and Current Risk Assessment Guidelines (0:38)
Faculty: Michael Blaha, MD, MPH

At the beginning of his presentation, Michael Blaha, MD, MPH tells learners exactly what he is going to cover and how he will cover the content.

Faculty: Michael Blaha, MD, MPH

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  Think about participants and what they will be learning
  Think about participants and what they will be learning

Ask yourself: How can I tap into and connect with participants’ experiences?

  • Who are your learners and what are their experiences? Do you know your learners? If not, how could you get information about them?
  • What learning tools are you planning to use? Audience response technology? Case? Online/APP-based calculator? Video? Research findings? Q&A?
  • How will the tool(s) help you connect with learners’ experiences?
  • How will these tools help you meet the objective(s) of your presentation?
  • What are the most important “take- away” points for the learners to grasp?

One of the best ways to tap into participants’ experiences is to ask them about themselves and their experiences. Then, use their stories and cases in your discussions. You may be able to utilize existing data and information about your learners available from the ACC. By incorporating information about participants into your presentation, you will more easily connect with their personal experiences and better facilitate their learning.

Another effective method for tapping into learners’ experiences is to use a case as the basis of your discussion. When using a case to connect with learners, ask learners about their experiences with such cases and how they handled similar patients.

Tip

Faculty Tip: Connect your “take-away” points to learners’ experiences so the take-away points are useful. Frame “take-away” points into behaviors participants will recognize. “The next time you see a patient with…” or “when dealing with “X”, like we just discussed, remember to…”.

Video Examples

Is this Diastolic HF, Cor Pulmonale, Pulmonary HTN, or All of the Above (0:42)
Faculty: Monique A. Freund, MBBS, FACC

In her ACC.16 presentation, Monique A. Freund, MBBS, FACC starts her session by finding out who is in the room. Dr. Freund is surprised by the results, which may have led her to modify specifics in her presentation.

Faculty: Monique A. Freund, MBBS, FACC

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Is this Diastolic HF, Cor Pulmonale, Pulmonary HTN, or All of the Above (0:41)
Faculty: Monique A. Freund, MBBS, FACC

Dr. Freund then frames her session’s content around patients and connects her takeaway points to behaviors we all recognize, saying, “so that the next time you see a breathless patient and you are trying to sort them out…”.

Faculty: Monique A. Freund, MBBS, FACC

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Case Presentation: How Frail Is Too Frail for VAD (2:21)
Faculty: Larry A. Allen, MD, FACC

In this presentation, Larry A. Allen, MD, FACC presents two cases simultaneously. The presentation of two cases not only expands the opportunity for learners to draw upon their experiences, but also offers comparisons that promote reflection (via analogical reasoning).

Faculty: Larry A. Allen, MD, FACC

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  Utilize Adult Learning Principles to Maximize the Opportunity for Learning & Change
  Utilize Adult Learning Principles to Maximize the Opportunity for Learning & Change

Ask yourself: How do you learn best? Do you learn when you have a problem in practice you need to solve? Do you learn from your mentors and colleagues? Do you try to gain experience and practice new techniques before implementing them?

If you thought yes for any or all of these questions, then you are like most adults who learn best when:

  Information is linked to genuine problems that need to be solved
  Information is linked to genuine problems that need to be solved

Adult Learning Principle #1: Adults learn when they are solving real problems in practice.

Tip

Adults are more motivated to learn when they are working to resolve issues they personally encounter and/or problems that they face in their daily lives. When learning opportunities are linked to genuine problems learners are experiencing, information has a more meaningful context of everyday application. “New” information isn’t abstract, but rather is a solution being linked to a need.3


  1. Demetriadis, S. N., & Pombortsis, A. (1999). Novice student learning in case based hypermedia environment: A quantitative study. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 8, 241–269.
Tip

Faculty Tip: Ask learners questions about their biggest challenges, difficult cases, or current frustrations. Frame your points into strategies that address learners’ problems in practice.

  Teaching points are connected to learners’ experiences, which access existing knowledge structures (i.e., schema)
  Teaching points are connected to learners’ experiences, which access existing knowledge structures (i.e., schema)

Adult Learning Principle #2: Adults learn through and by experience.

Tip

Learning is directly linked with experience. When you share information within the context of experiences that are recognizable to learners, they are able to access their existing knowledge (schema). Once schema (mental models) are accessed, learners can begin to integrate your “content” with their existing knowledge based on their own experiences.4


  1. Gentner, D., Loewenstein, J., Thompson, L. (2003). Learning and transfer: A general role for analogical encoding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 393-408.
Tip

Faculty Tip: Use cases to connect with learners. Ask participants questions like “how many have seen this before” or “does this look/sound familiar?” Assess the extent to which your learners have similar experiences so that you can tap into what they know. If things don’t look/sound familiar to participants, you may need to share information to create a common understanding of the topic before moving on to other points.

Video Example

ACC Talk Preventing Atherosclerotic Cardiac Disease in Congenital Heart Disease (17:30)
Faculty: Ami B. Bhatt, MD, FACC

In this TED-style talk, Ami B. Bhatt, MD, FACC draws upon learners’ experiences via story-telling. Through her story-telling, Dr. Bhatt allows learners to paint a mental picture of her patient and the patient’s experience. She also uses phrases that help her connect with learners’ experiences, such as “that’s who we are” and “you know you have this patient.”

Faculty: Ami B. Bhatt, MD, FACC

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  Comparisons can be made that promote reflection
  Comparisons can be made that promote reflection

Adult Learning Principle #3: Reflection helps adults learn.

Reflection offers a learner the ability to draw inferences from past experiences to create possible future action plans by enabling them to see different options.5 Reflection can be generated by comparisons via a process called, “analogical reasoning.” With analogical reasoning learners can link a new situation with a past experience through structural similarities.6 The similarities between situations allow learners to access their schema (mental models) so that the learning process can begin.


  1. Ertmer, P.A & Newby, T.J. (1996). The expert learner: Strategic, self-regulated, and reflective. Instructional Science, 24(1), 1-24.
  2. Gentner, D. (1983). Structure-mapping: A theoretical framework for analogy. Cognitive Science, 7, 155-170.
Tip

Faculty Tips:

  • Present a case, situation, or solution to learners and ask them to identify how it is similar to or different from their own experiences. Are they missing any similarities or differences in their descriptions?
  • Help participants complete their knowledge by pointing out aspects of the case/situation/solution that they may not have recognized.
  • Ask learners to describe multiple options and what the outcomes of those options might be.
  • Use analogies and ask learners to make comparisons.

Video Examples

System Wide Approaches to Reducing 30 Day Readmissions (02:09)
Faculty: Ileana L. Pina, MD, MPH, FACC

Ileana L. Pina, MD, MPH, FACC uses openings slides that include images which serve as an analogy to help her make her key points and share her story.

Faculty: Ileana L. Pina, MD, MPH, FACC

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The Heart Failure Bazaar Negotiating the Options (00:54)
Faculty: Larry A. Allen, MD, FACC

Larry A. Allen, MD, FACC uses a non-clinical analogy to help make his point about presenting choices to patients.

Faculty: Larry A. Allen, MD, FACC

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PH and HFpEF An Overview (00:53)
Faculty: Sanjiv Jayendra Shah, MD, FACC

Sanjiv Jayendra Shah, MD, FACC uses a non-clinical analogy to help make his point about identifying patients with pulmonary hypertension.

Faculty: Sanjiv Jayendra Shah, MD, FACC

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  Learners are supported in “thinking” differently to help build or change mental models
  Learners are supported in “thinking” differently to help build or change mental models

Adult Learning Principle #4: Learning and change occurs when adults develop new or change existing mental models.

Tip

A mental model (e.g., knowledge schema) is what and how someone “thinks” about something. It is a mental “representation of some domain or situation that supports understanding, reasoning, and prediction”.7 When you help learners “think about” things differently through reflection via comparisons, you are helping them develop new, or change existing, mental models (schemas).

When you share information in analogies or comparisons you are providing information within the context of experiences that are relevant to learners. You are providing “cues” that help learners tap into their knowledge structures. Once these knowledge structures are accessed, learning can occur. Performance change can be initiated, and ultimately maintained, because schemas (mental models) are developed to support a new desired behavior.


  1. Gentner, D. (2001). Psychology of Mental Models. In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, (Smelser, N.J & Baltes, P.B, eds). Pergamon, Oxford. p. 9683-9687.
Tip

Faculty Tips:

  • Ask learners to describe future actions and identify what types of changes may need to occur to achieve future actions.
  • Ask learners if they (or someone else on the health care team) will need to do something differently. Will they need different information in the form of test results or patient history? What is their attitude about these future actions? What will others’ attitudes be about the changes?
  • Share tools that help learners make changes to practice.

Video Examples

ACC Talk Preventing Atherosclerotic Cardiac Disease in Congenital Heart Disease (05:10)
Faculty: Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, FACC

In this example, Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, FACC shares his approach to clinical decision making in the form of an algorithm. The algorithm serves as a mental model.

Faculty: Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, FACC

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Eugene Braunwald Lecture Evidence and the Practice of Cardiovascular Medicine (01:21)
Faculty: Robert M. Califf, MD, MACC

Robert M. Califf, MD, MACC shares the “Braunwald Approach” during the Eugene Braunwald Lecture. This approach represents a mental model.

Faculty: Robert M. Califf, MD, MACC

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PH and HFpEF An Overview (00:31)
Faculty: Sanjiv Jayendra Shah, MD, FACC

At the end of his presentation, Sanjiv Jayendra Shah, MD, FACC shares an image of a hand that can be a mental tool for learners to remember his message and key points.

Faculty: Sanjiv Jayendra Shah, MD, FACC

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