How We Learn Best


It may not be a classroom setting.

I am a Physical Therapist in a primary care setting.  I work next to and co-treat patients with Doctors throughout the day.  Because of this, I am able to see a lot of the differences in how our professions have been educated, how we think, and how we clinically reason.  This difference has extended to how continuing classes have been designed.

 As I was talking with one of my Dr. colleagues he mentioned that he was going on a cruise to the Bahamas with his family.  He was taking a continuing education course and was planning on getting out of class early to enjoy the sun, family time and simply not being in his office.  “I bet there won’t be a lot of learning over there, right?” I quipped.  “Actually, I went last year and I learned a lot!” “I still remember a lot from those classes, something about short classes and having more time to discuss with my classmates afterwards just helped it stick.” He explained.  

This I found is not only a common theme with Doctors, but across our lives as well.  If I think back to lessons I learned both in rehab and in life, I can point to many instances where the “a-ha” moment was achieved outside of the classroom.  This is backed by other reports as well.  In a Rasmussen poll 81% of respondents reported learning more outside of the classroom than in the classroom.  According to Paul Hudson, writer for Elite Daily, the classroom/school setting is set up for short-term goals:  semesters, grades, and report cards.  Life doesn’t always work this way.  His article further explains that In real life, networking and long-term goals are most often what helps someone progress within their profession.

There are countless examples of people who suffer great pains to learn Algebra in school only to thrive when asked to do the same problem as it applies to their job.  Examples include a chef who has to triple a recipe or a carpenter asked to calculate area, volume, and circumference when building cabinets.  As a Physical Therapist, my key moments came with mentorship in the clinic, not the classroom.  In addition, most PTs will tell you that they have learned far more after they graduated as a clinician, than from school. 

I don’t want to conclude that the classroom is a bad way to learn, in fact, I do not see any other way to teach valuable information to a large amount of people.  However, what I do see is that we have fallen into a teaching rut in most continuing education classes.  My question:  Is there a better way?  Can we make information “stick” if we change the environment?  Is the Doctor’s class in the Bahamas onto something?  

Many other professions have already started this.  The reason seems to be more complex than improving attendance.  There are the additional benefits that come with travel. These lead to networking opportunities and participation in activities after the class.  These often lead to professional connections, more access to instructors, and even friendships.  Consider this quote from the U.S. Ambassador for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation on why he held his most notable meetings at a vacation spot in Hawaii, “When people are relaxed, they think more clearly, and when they think more clearly, they’re more likely to come to conclusions that result in agreements.” 

 I may be biased, but I can’t think of people who could benefit more from this than Physical Therapists.


Randal Glaser PT, DPT, OCS is a Physical Therapist in California and is currently working on developing continuing education courses for