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The Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on Associations

Certificates: A growing trend

A service that many associations offer is continuing professional education (CPE) for their members and the profession, trade or industry that the association represents. These offerings are delivered in a variety of formats. Among those formats, the growing trend to also offer a specialized certificate program or a profession related certification program. These certificates and certifications are becoming widely recognized and accepted by professionals, employers and government agencies. For many the certification has replaced the degree for those who wants to get the promotion or a raise and at a cost generally much expensive than the college degree.

Keeping the definition simple, certificate programs are generally limited in scope of the subject matter, time and accountability. Certificate programs can be as simple as a one day, one class program or they may go for a week or a month. Certificates are generally awarded based upon completion of the course or a limited series of courses. Generally there is no accountability on the part of the association that is offering the certificate about what is actually learned, only that the individual attended the class or program about a given topic.

Associations that offer specialties of Certification are more focused upon continuing professional development (CPD). of the membership and related industry. Certification programs are generally longer, running several months, possibly as much as a year. Certification may be offered after completing one long class or a series of shorter classes. Additionally, many certification programs require updates or renewals every few years. Associations are placing their reputations on the fact that those who complete a certification will have measurable knowledge or skills that are taught in the framework of the certification program.

Associations are not chartered to offer degrees, but some associations similar to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) are working closely with colleges like the Alexandria Technical and Community College to incorporate their certification program into the college program. Other examples of blended cooperation include West Virginia University offering their Forensics Science Initiative (FSI) program in collaboration with the National Institute of Justice. And there is theInternational Facility Management Association (IFMA) offering their certification programs, Facility Management Professional (FMP), Sustainability Facilities Professional (SFP), and their Certified Facility Manager (CFM) program in collaboration with various community colleges across the country. These are all examples of the emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development.

The Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on Higher Education

It about the degree, right?

Let me state my point of view of higher education upfront, I am focusing on the student who is interested in obtaining a college degree to improve their employment options. It may be the graduate student or it could be the undergraduate or the student in a community college or technical school that wants to get a promotion, a better position or a raise. Today, it is also more than likely that these are adult students. They have experienced the stress of a difficult economy and observed the rising cost of tuition. A record number of them have taken on student loans and many now face default. Higher education is about the degree, right? The degree has been the path to gaining knowledge, education and better employment. But tens of thousands of students and employers are questioning the perceived value of that degree.

Along came the Internet with free information. Today you can take free online courses from leading universities such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and other colleges. Suddenly, what had been the exclusive domain of courses for the purpose of receiving college degrees becomes part of anyone’s opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD). But colleges cannot afford to give away their courses and expect to stay in operation. Community colleges, technical colleges and associations are offering certificates and certifications. These certificates and certifications are becoming widely recognized and accepted by professionals, employers and government agencies. Certification may show a demonstration of advanced knowledge, of a competency, and/or a skill. In some cases the certification has replaced the degree for that person who wants to get that promotion, the better position or a raise and the cost of a certification is generally much less that the college degree.

So, what might we expect for higher education? Well, the college degree is not going to go away. Society still values the college tradition, the credibility and trust the college degree. Most colleges will increase their online education programs and online course offerings. For example, the Boston Architectural College offered the first online Sustainable Design degree and their colleges are searching for their niche. Schools will increasingly offer certification programs and the courses that support those programs. Schools will increase the number of partnerships they develop with professional, technical, and trade associations as well as related businesses and industry. Pratt Institute for example, partners with the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA). offering IFMA credential programs using Pratt IFMA certified faculty.

Two major expenses for a college, the campus and the faculty and online education affect both areas. Online education allows the college to expand their reach to students globally without greatly expanding the cost of a facility or an instructor. Partnering with a business or industry and setting up a satellite facility in an office is becoming a common practice. Online education expands the college faculty’s reach globally, 24/7. The online instructor can offer a lecture to hundreds or thousands at a time. It would be similar the professor offering a class lecture in a large auditorium while discussion groups make it more personalized for the student.

The Emerging Blend of the Degree, the Certification, and Professional Development: The overview

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We often hear that change is constant. In yesterday’s issue of the Washington Post was an article on education, “An alternative to high-cost college?" A major focus of the article was about how start-up companies are providing free or low priced programs are designed to compete against the expense of a college degree program. This article is yet another statement about the current assault on the expense of obtaining a degree in higher education and the perceived value of that degree. While the Post article focused mainly on higher education, this is just the tip of the transition. There is a related larger issue that needs our attention, the emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development.

In their book, Nine Shift that was published in 2004, the authors William Draves and Julie Coates introduced to us the changes that were beginning to occur in our society because of the acceptance and use of the internet. They described changes that were just beginning to occur in our approach to work, in our life styles, and in our approach to education. As the Washington Post article describes the situation, we are now well into the middle of the transition described in Nine Shift. So, where are we now? What'€™s the current landscape?

Related to formal education MIT, Harvard and others have used the internet to design a new education landscape. The Washington Post article sited MITalong with other universities as pioneers for offering open courseware. To date there are more than 15,000 online open courses provided by more than 250 institutions. Suddenly, what had been the exclusive domain of courses for the purpose of receiving college degrees become part of anyone'€™s opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD). In their association'€™s official publication, Training + Development, the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) indicated that in 2010 more new online courses were being developed by companies than traditional classroom courses. Online companies such as Ron Blank, RedVector, AECDaily, Saylor.com, P2PU are using college faculty to develop and on offer online CPD. And don'€™t forget McDonald'€™s Hamburger University or the Disney Institute.

Throw into the mix a few online certificate or certification programs offered by associations, community colleges and technical schools. Suddenly the lines between degrees, certifications, and professional development begin to blur. You now have a real conundrum. How do you sort through what I refer to the "€œterrible T's" - Turf, Trust and Tradition. Who is supposed to offer what to whom? Who can you trust? And, who are these people – have they ever offered education before?

So, what’s next? What can we expect? In the upcoming series of the “emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development” we will offer papers specific to the impact on higher education, associations, firms, product manufacturers and the workforce.

Is it Knowledge or Education? And does it matter?

For many associations this has become a real quandary. At first glance it should be easy to distinguish. Just ask what kind of service is your association trying to provide to your members? Look at the mission statement of the association. Then look at the association’s strategic business goals and these should help clarify, define, and provide direction. This is easy, right?

Yet with the continuing changes involving self-paced learning, eLearning, and social media, this issue has become more complex, not less. So let me first try to establish a framework for knowledge and education as defined by Wikipedia.

"Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic."

"Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of others. Any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational."

My observation has been that there are two very different directions that an association can take when establishing a learning strategy, and faced with the decision between offering knowledge sharing opportunities and delivering education to their members.

Model one for an association; offer the most up-to-date information and research data to their members so that the members can be more knowledgeable and competitive in their profession or industry. This could be open source information that encourages the membership to stay current and use the association as a first source and/or reliable source. The emphasis here is on the benefit to the member. Simultaneously, the association should be providing free information to the public and related industry. Through free and/or inexpensive (to members) use of a webcast, podcast, course, workshop, conference, convention, online open forum, etc… the association should promote the values of the association and the professional services that the association's membership base represent. This model works best when the membership does not have any form of mandatory requirement to maintain their knowledge standards.

Model two for an association; deliver education to their members so that their members can be the knowledge leaders in their industry or profession. This approach generally provides additional benefits for the members, usually when the courses, webcasts, workshops, conferences, conventions, online forums, etc., meet the association’s professional standards or credential requirements. It may even meet another related professional organization'€™s credential maintenance requirements, or more likely a state licensing board'€™s mandatory continuing education (MCE) requirement. The downside to the association'€™s members, as much as the member may expect and want it, education is not free. Someone has to pay for the development and the delivery of the education. In one form or another, these expenses are passed on to the members and even more so to the non-member and stakeholders. Strict standards are set for knowledge to be qualified as education.

For an association the difference between knowledge and education comes down to several key questions:
1. What is the mission of the association?
2. What are the association’s strategic business goals?
3. If the association wants to provide education, how will the association cover their development and delivery expenses?

Virtual Curriculum: A program design solution for A/E/C firms.

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The responses were interesting and varied when last month I submit this series of questions to more than a dozen online professional discussion groups.

“Does anyone have an example of a virtual curriculum based upon an individual’s subject matter interest rather than group subjects or topics? Is success measured based upon the participant’s mastery of the subject or some type of norm scores? Are the results tied to work performance, pay, or certification?

Quickly, a definition of “virtual” needed to be established. It was generally agreed in most of the discussion groups that “virtual” meant “online.” Bill Brunk, Ph.D asked the question on the CLO Magazine discussion group, “ I wonder if you might not be confusing two concept here: self-directed learning and virtual (online) learning.” Dr. Brunk brought up a good point and I thought we were beginning to address the question but the largest number of immediate responses came from consultants and schools who obviously were trying to market their online courses. If they bothered to look, I too offer online classes on my website– but that did not really address the questions.

To clarify I stated that I wanted to explore the curriculum definition that relates to a set of courses constituting an area of specialization, where curriculum is built around the individual’s interest rather than the institutions offerings. I was looking for more than simply saying we (the association/consultant/university) give online degrees or provide certification in...(fill in the blank).

From the TED discussion group Donald R. (Chip) Levy, a former Senior Director of Professional Development at the AIA responded with, “In common practice, many think of a curriculum as a generally linear, organized learning path to some goal (degree, certification, specialist credential, etc.). For me, the interesting twist has less to do with getting one's ticket punched at the end of a process, and more to do with building a thoughtful, if idiosyncratic, learning program that continually moves each learner toward evolving performance excellence and (career) success. The resources can be from a variety of sources, focused on a variety of KSAs, employing a variety of delivery channels and media, and uniquely aggregated for each person. It is an ongoing, evolutionary prospect -- a "lifelong curriculum" that guides "lifelong learning" as we progress through our careers.”

In conclusion, I believe that technology allows us to expand our learning options in a format where we can pick the one that works best for us. If I take courses at my own discretion I would be reluctant to call that a curriculum. In order for the learning to become a curriculum I would suggest that the process follows a guided path, such as one outlined by a negotiated contract. I would advocate however that the curriculum options are greatly expanded when the learning process is not limited or restricted to just the courses offered by the school, the association or a business. The instructor or consultant thus becomes a learning adviser - guiding the learner toward agreed upon learning goals.

The International Learning Unit: An Expanding Role in Schools

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What do West Palm Beach, Florida, Vancouver, British Columbia, Morgantown, West Virginia and Washington, DC have in common? They all host organizations that use the International Learning Unit (ILU) for continuing education courses and programs. In Washington, DC you will find associations that use the ILU. In Morgantown, WV you will find it used at the university, in Vancouver it is used at Langara College and in West Palm Beach, Florida at Forest Hill Community High School. The ILU is used because of its flexibility, its ease of use, and its capabilities of measuring learning, knowledge and skills. The ILU can be used for supporting a professional license or for personal growth.

David Reilly is the Assistant Principal for Adult and Community Education at Forest Hill Community High School. David states that “The ILU may be used in many teaching situations. It must be remembered that we are looking for a mastery of the content. The mastery is set at 80%. Content items may be evaluated through the use of test and quizzes, demonstrations, essays, online discussion, presentations, performance based projects, peer review, and other outcome- based evaluations. It makes sense that if a student is taking a class for the betterment of him or herself that there should be a measurement of how well the student did, and how much he or she learned. Many courses offer different types of instruction and the ILU unit of measurement can be used in all modes of teaching. It is also an advantage if a student is taking a course for his or her present employer. When a certificate is issued with the 80% amount of content mastery shown to an employer the mastery and the amount of ILU’s carries more clout than if a student simply takes a course.”

David told us that it was the instructors that saw a need for the use of the ILU in some of the adult and community education classes that were offered at Forest Hill Community High School. David stated that the instructors of courses such as Quick Books and cake decorating use the ILU because they were looking for a performance based measurement that supported quizzes as well as a demonstration to gain mastery. David indicated that within each lesson there are assigned actions that must be performed by the students. As the student completes assignments the teacher, using a scale for performance grading checks off the performance content and assigns ILU points.

Use of the International Learning Unit (ILU) at WVA

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The International Learning Unit (ILU) is an excellent standard to use as a measurement for learning. It has proven to be extremely well suited for online education. While at the American Institute of Architects we used the ILU as the baseline of measurement of learning for the online education that we offered. We found that it was more useful, flexible, accurate, and defendable when we wanted our continuing education credits to apply for mandatory continuing education credits for the architect’s licenses.

Sherry Kuehn, is the Senior Program Coordinator at West Virginia University (WVU). Sherry works in the office of Continuing and Professional Education (C&PE), a Division of WVU Extended Learning. Sherry shared with me that WVU adopted the ILU into their Forensics Program in 2008. She stresses that it works particularly well for that program as forensic professionals do not have a standard, mandated requirement to take continuing education classes in order to continue working in their field – no matter the specialization. Sherry stated that the entire WVU forensic program is completely online which to date includes 25 courses. These courses utilize a pre- and post-test as well as discussion boards, quizzes, and interactive projects to assist students in learning the material. Sherry stated that the instructors of the forensic courses assign the ILU value based on the criteria set forth by the Learning Resource Network (LERN) which is 50 content items = 1.0 ILU. Every activity within each course is set at an 80% mastery level before the student can proceed to the next unit or module. In the past year, the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) has approved this training and the use of the ILU for mastery of content. Sherry added that while the ABC won’t print its endorsement on any publications at this time, this is not necessarily specific to just ILUs.

How the CEU and the ILU can work together?

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For organizations that deliver continuing education consider using both the Continuing Education Unit (CEU) and the International Learning Unit (ILU). The CEU has been widely used for several decades. While the use and understanding of the CEU has become diluted by the many who do not fully understand the structure and intent, the formal CEU - next to time - is the primary benchmark used to measure continuing education courses and programs. The two, time and the CEU are interlinked but not always interchangeable. Subtle interpretations of how time is counted can affect the number of CEU credits awarded - one example, the 50 minute hour.

The ILU is only been in use since the early 2000’s but like the CEU, the ILU also measures continuing education courses and programs. Both the CEU and ILU records are used to provide evidence of completion of continuing education requirements by agencies and institutions. The CEU and the ILU require that courses taught use their designated standards. For the CEU there is a fee associated, for the ILU registration is required but no fee. Both CEU and ILU require learning objectives and qualified instructors to deliver course material in an appropriate format. And the CEU and ILU both use units of .1 to designate single units of learning. Example both would list 5 units of learning as .5 or 10 units of learning as 1.0.

Employers and faculty are interested in knowing that in a learning situation, substance and retention is more important than time. Where, when or how a person learns is not as important as what they learned and that they learn. The ILU requires an outcome based competency with a minimum result of at least 80% or better. This means that there are results available upon completion of the course. Some CEU providers include some form of test or demonstrated competency as part of their educations courses or programs. For other on-site training, classroom, face-to-face training, and some forms of eLearning a test or a demonstrated competency segment could be included for CEU and ILU credits.

We know that the CEU measures the length of the class, the time from start to finish. As delivery methods for eLearning continue to expand however, the time the participant spends in the process of learning loses importance. By focusing more on comprehension, competencies, outcomes, and retention those providers using the CEU could improve their courses and programs by adopting the additional ILU elements of testing and/or demonstrated competency measures. As education providers adapt to the new technologies and begin to use more e-learning media that are difficult to measure in time, the courses and programs can retain the focus on learning using the ILU standards.

What Are the Differences Between the CEU and the ILU?

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The Continuing Education Unit (CEU) was developed by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
The International Learning Unit (ILU) was developed by the the Learning Resources Network (LERN).

The CEU has been widely used for several decades.
The ILU has been used since the early 2000’s

The CEU was designed to address issues of the industrial age.
The ILU was designed to address issues during the “Age of the Internet.”

The CEU is a measurement of education units based upon time, specifically - seat time in class.
The ILU is a measurement of education units based upon based upon competency to measuring learning.

The CEU emphasizes that the professional/participant/student is in the classroom while a qualified instructor delivers his/her presentation.
The ILU emphasizes that the professional/participant/student learns the material while a qualified instructor delivers his/her presentation.

The CEU measures the length of the class, the time from start to finish.
The ILU requires an outcome based competency with a minimum result of at least 80% or better.

The CEU has difficulty measuring time on some eLearning platforms.
The ILU accommodates all platforms when measuring competency and skills.

Remember, not that one is good or bad but there are differences between the CEU and the ILU. And now it is your turn to add to the list:

The CEU is different from the ILU in that….?

The ILU is different from the CEU in that….?

The International Learning Unit (ILU) holds new relevancy in the age of the Internet

Flickr Photo by by epSos.de

As almost everyone who works in the field of continuing education, professional development or organizational development knows - the continuing education unit (CEU) was the model for measurement most frequently used during the 20th century. This time based model worked well in the industrial age. Unfortunately the CEU model hasn’t changed, nor has it kept up to date while our global cultures have changed. So what can improve, update or replace the CEU? The International Learning Unit (ILU) developed in the 21st century to address the changing needs of continuing and professional education in the age of the Internet.

According to Wikipedia the “International Learning Unit (ILU)” is an outcome based measurement of learning designed for lifelong learning activities. The ILU is a competency based approach to measuring learning education courses. The ILU is an alternative measurement and standard to the time based measured courses. The ILU measurement can be used to provide evidence of completion of continuing education requirements mandated by certification bodies, professional societies, or governmental licensing boards.

The ILU was designed for the needs of the 21st century. Instead of recording seat time in class the ILU measures the knowledge and skills of the participants. The ILU adopts well to web based education that has begun to warp, change, and reshape time as it relates to learning. Unfortunately all of the rules and laws are currently written measuring the professionals success in time spent at the event. Does this still make sense in your continuing education or certification program to measure seat time – when there might not even be a seat used? Isn’t it time to adapt the International Learning Unit?

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