Thom's blog

Is the CEU losing relevancy in the “Age of the Internet?”

Lowther7 Photo - August 2011 Conference Session

For more than half a century the Continuing Education Unit, or as it is more commonly known the CEU has been the standard bearer of measurement for continuing education and professional development. This time based measurement has become such a common term that it is now frequently misrepresented, regardless of some good intentions. So to respect the intent, according to Wikipedia the CEU is a measurement used in continuing education programs, particularly those required in a licensed profession in order for the professional to maintain the license. Examples of professionals in need of annual or bi-annual CEUs; architects, educators, engineers, interior designers, nurses, mental health professionals, physicians, and social workers. Wikipedia goes on to state that the “CEU records are widely used to provide evidence of completion of continuing education requirements mandated by certification bodies, professional societies, or governmental licensing boards.” Licensing boards and certification boards feel some comfort knowing that someone was watching to ensure that the professional/participant/student was in the classroom while the qualified instructor was delivering his/her presentation. Even our laws are written measuring the professionals success in time spent at the event.

The CEU as a standard for measuring continuing education is based upon time, or to be more precise - seat time in class. This means that someone measures the length of the class, the time from start to finish. For decades this system of measurement has worked. But was during the mid 1900’s that the International Association for Continuing Education & Training (IACET) worked with universities and the Department of Defense to promote this industrial age standard of measurement. Around the turn of this century the “Age of the Internet” came in like a storm. Suddenly the web began to warp, change, and reshape time. The CEU has not yet adjusted to keep up with the changes.

Consider of all the changes in technology over just the past five years. We now need to include blended learning, YouTube, iPod, the iPad, the iPhone and a host of mobile devices when we consider an education delivery system. Look at the differences in access speeds of the various platforms, the hardware and software. The hardware and software affected the “time” people spend accessing and participating on, online and mobile courses. People are challenging the importance of time on the web – instead – replacing that with results. Related to continuing education, concerns for competency based learning have returned to the forefront. To tie this together, the CEU is a time based measurement, not necessarily a competency based system. So I ask - has the CEU lost its relevance in the age of the Internet?

Evaluation and Improvement – The 7th key to quality continuing education for product manufacturers

For the product manufacturer the 7th key towards providing quality continuing education is to evaluate each course upon completion and use the results to continually improve the course. Michael D. Perry, Hon. AIA,is the Vice President Government Sales and STAMP and is currently with Simon Roofing/SR Products. Michael has been a long time advocate of holding the product manufacturer accountable to the highest standards of developing and providing continuing professional education to design professionals. In an effort to improve continuing education quality standards for the design industry Michael was the first to support the AIA Continuing Education System Award for Excellence. He was also responsible for launching the AIA/CES Firm Symposium which assisted firm leaders in the establishment of industry standards for internal professional development programs that relied heavily on support from product manufactures. According to Michael, “professional development and continuing education is all about constant improvement. The only way to measure the impact of the message you are delivering is to conduct an evaluation at the end of a program. This process is essential not only for the content of your message but also for the quality of the presentation. Without good feedback from the course attendees you will never know if the information is beneficial and if your methodology of delivering the information is leaving the audience at the altar.”

David deBear, CTC, CSI, is the National Construction Service Manager and works for Custom Building Products a product manufacturer and a long time registered continuing education provider. Under David’s leadership Custom Building Products was a multi – time winner of the AIA/CES Award for Excellence. When I recently asked David to reflect back on contributing factors to winning the award he share this story with me related to what he called a more technical related course. David stated that he received one evaluation where the participant thought the topic was relevant but that the course was confusing. David indicated that the course had been receiving mixed reviews and not consistently delivering the intended message. This one evaluation was more critical and more specific. In summary the participant stated that they could not follow the story the topic was covering and that it was confusing. With the specifics provided by this particular participant as well as comparing statements from previous evaluations, David realized that the company needed to bring in a curriculum specialist to restructure the story line. The curriculum specialist reorganized the content and to follow the story line so that it was not confusing. The curriculum specialist added a summary of key points so regardless of the knowledge level of the participant, information was received. David said that after the adjustment, participant satisfaction with the course increased dramatically.
A Product manufacturer that offers continuing education in any industry needs to build a system that continually evaluates all of their courses. Catch the evaluations immediately on-site, do not rely on the internet for feedback for on-site courses. Focus on items such as content, instructor delivery and methodology. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as a product manufacturer that offers reliable quality education.

Evaluation and Improvement – The firm’s 7th key to quality continuing professional education

The question that I like to raise, "what does your firm do with the information collected after having employees evaluate each course upon completion?" Does your firm require course evaluations from each participant before certificates or credit is awarded? Does your firm use a competency based learning approach that ties into performance and bonus pay? Does your firm use a systematic approach to annual or semi-annual review of the overall education program? Does your firm integrate the results of the evaluations into the firm’s business plans? In order to establish a quality education professional education program you should have answered either “yes,” or answered, “We are working on all of these questions.”

It is amazing that firms spent time and effort to provide some type of an evaluation form for their employees and clients at the end of a training session and then do not use the results for improvement of the either the courses, instructors, staff performance, or business improvement. The opportunities for improvement within the firm are great. The collected information can be used to improve future course offerings, content, instructors, and delivery methods. Forward thinking firms can use the results to improve their firm’s product or services. They can also improve their firm’s marketing and promotion by having clients participate in select sessions.

Your firm could build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses and the employees upon completion of the courses. Curriculum could be developed from the results of the evaluations. Faculty or instructors could be developed from a selection process involving high performing employees. Performance improvement could be measured, evaluated and adjusted according to the business needs of the firm. Internal instructors, staff and human resources/training department staff could receive instantaneous feedback on what needs to improve, and maybe even how to improve. Use the information you collect to continually improve your continuing professional education courses and your business. Who knows, it might even help in the firm’s recruitment efforts when emerging professionals discover that the firm is serious about professional development.

Evaluation and Improvement – An association’s 7th key to quality continuing education

Does your association have participants evaluate each of courses upon completion? Does your association provide evaluations because it is expected? Does your association require course evaluations from each participant before certificates or credit is awarded? Does your association have a systematic approach to annual or semi-annual review of the overall education program? In order to establish a quality education program you should have answered either yes, or working on it to all of these questions. And, if your answer is yes to any of these questions, what do you do with all of that information once it is collected?

I am amazed at how many associations go through all the time and effort to provide some type of evaluation form for participants at the end of the session then do little to even collect the results. At a minimum, the collected information should be used to improve the course content, format, instruction, delivery, and promotion. It should not be used just to determine if participants liked the food, liked the instructor, and that the temperature of the room was OK.

Your association should build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses upon completion. At a minimum you should share all of the information in a detailed summary with your education advisory committee, your faculty, and your staff. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as an association that offers reliable quality education.

Closing the Loop: Evaluation and Improvement – the 7th key to quality continuing education

Flickr photo by azwaldo/3256080624

You are almost finished – but not yet. You have completed the assessment and followed through with your planning. You designed the curriculum and developed the course content. You developed your marketing plan and promoted the course(s). You finished up on the delivery of the course(s), so now what? You don’t just want a good program you want an outstanding program, built upon high quality course content and delivery. To do this you included an evaluation and feedback process. You build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses upon completion along with an operational work flow process for each year. Set up a system that will evaluate each course, service or product against (Key 3) measurable short and long-term educational goals with performance projections. Most of all don’t let this valuable information collect dust. I have watched too many organizations evaluate each of their courses because it was expected or required, and then do nothing with the information they collected. Share all of the information, in a summary and detail where appropriate with your education committee members, your faculty, and your staff. Use the information you collect to continually improve program and courses, to build upon your reputation as a quality organization, and to become more profitable.

The 6th Key for a Product Manufacturer: Implementation and delivery of continuing education

For the product manufacturer, the first rule of implementation and delivery –keep it simple and follow your action plan. One strength of the product manufacturer is their product research department. The big question is how do they use that information when delivering education? Add to their research, the product manufacturers are in a prime position to develop project studies or case studies about actual application. Where so many product manufacturers slip up, they run their client continuing education programs from their marketing department using their sales force as the trainers. It is difficult to be an effective trainer if your income is based entirely on what you sell. An answer to this problem –rule number two is to have your technical staff deliver the education to your clients. Team them with a sales staff if you must but then structure their salary to reflect that some of their time is spent in education marketing and not direct sales.

Here is an example of one company that has learned to design and deliver product education correctly,Pella Windows, Commercial Division. In 1989 Pella hired an architect, Terry Zeimetz, AIA, CSI, CCPR to design and teach architects and engineers about their products. Based upon adult education principals and clear learning objectives Terry incorporated Pella’s research and developed courses slowly over time that were based upon projects related to the architects and engineers needs. These education courses were not sales pitches. Pella was patient and gave their plan time to develop and unfold. They built their program around their research and ongoing need assessments. Because of a solid foundation, by the time they reached the implementation and delivery phase the process went reasonably smooth, it grew and continues today. Terry was not afraid to try the new and the different, something that connected to Pella’s strategic education plans. Pella’s on-site education and product tour has become the standard for offering site tours for the industry.

The 6th Key for a Firm: Implementation and delivery of professional education

For most firms the big question is how committed is the firm toward promoting continuing education for their employees? Assuming that the leadership of the firm is committed to the professional growth of their employees then assessment of employees and firm needs, analysis of the data, and setting measurable objectives are the basics to insuring that implementation of the best process will succeed.

There is no shortage of eager education providers and consultants available, firms should have little difficulty matching education to needs. Many firms that have successful internal professional education programs start by forming and education committee that handles the administration functions of need assessment, selection, implementation, delivery format and other administrative type functions. Generally a staff member is volunteered to handle the facilitation of these duties. As a rule of thumb, if the firm has more than 50 employees the position could be half time with pay or shift of billable hour responsibility. When the firm reaches 100 employees it is time to consider committing to a full time staff person to coordinate the responsibilities of education.

What use to be predominantly a choice between sending staff somewhere externally for training or allowing vendors and consultants to come into the firm has radically changed these last 5-10 years. The use of the internet changed everything and has opened up many new possibilities for adding new delivery formats of education to the firm’s staff. Surprisingly, a hot issue now is what policies are needed to “control” the use of the internet by employees. While cost is the excuse often given for not using new technologies, control of employee’s use of time is more often the concern. Some firms have embraced the new technology and invest in expensive LMS tools. However, there are many solutions available today that are inexpensive that firms could use for implementation and delivery of planned employee education. Other firms withdraw from the technology tools completely and block access to social media tools such as Facebook and limit delivery format types like flash. The education committee needs to match the firm’s strategic plan, with employee needs, and delivery formats. There are so many options available that a blended approach should be seriously considered. Internal technology policies should be realistic and open to considering what are the firm’s education needs. You can either educate your staff or spend time recruiting and training replacements. Identify a qualified staff member and provide the direction and support necessary to maximize on the opportunities. There are now four generations in the workplace. They don’t all learn the same way. Be flexible!

The 6th Key for Associations: Implementation and delivery of continuing education

One advantage of working for an association or non-profit, they have access to their membership data base that stakeholder organizations and marketers often only dream about. While it may be tempting to react with education offerings because a committee or board member has a friend who knows somebody, or they have an interest in a specific topic, please try not to act too quickly. Use your database to do an education need assessment of your members and their clients before saying yes to the committee or board member. Analysis the results of the assessment then develop a plan and design the course. Or just maybe, after analysis of the data you might just say no to the committee or board member. At least the decision or justification will be based upon actual data and not just a reaction.

Once a decision is reached and a plan is drawn up, follow your action plan of implementation and delivery. Association leaders need think in terms of a process that may take 2- 3 years before expecting to see major results. Action plans should include measureable steps throughout the process. Expectations however need to be realistic so be patient and give your plan time to develop and unfold.

At the program level successful associations generally have partners in their education initiative. Keep your lines of communication straightforward and open with your partners. Share information with your partners about what the competition is doing, or about new technology delivery methods. Stay abreast of advocacy or legal issues that may impact your program implementation or delivery directly or indirectly.

There are now four generations in the workplace. Is your association shrinking because new members are not joining? Or growing as the emerging professionals begin to outnumber your long term core members? Add to the mix, diversity in our social structure. Is your association the same core membership that you have experienced for generations? Or are you witnessing a change in membership make-up who hold new points of view? And every association is dealing with a rapid change while members are struggling to accommodate advances in technology. With all of these changes, expectations encourage you to try new and different approaches to delivery. Be flexible in your program implementation. Be flexible in your conference and course delivery methods. But don’t forget to measure progress and adjustments against your plan.

Implementation and Delivery: The 6th key to quality continuing education

Flickr Photo by NASA on The Commons

The first rule of implementation and delivery, follow your action plan. Be patient and give your plan time to develop and unfold. On an organizational level think in terms of a process that may take 2- 3 years to see real results. Between your needs assessment and analysis (Key 3) and planning and performance projection (Key 4) you should discover that you have been provides with direction and a path to follow. At the course level, keep a close eye on the competition, technology, along with your profession or trade issues. The entire world of continuing education and professional education has changed in the past several years. With four generations now in the workplace there is still room for the tried and the traditional but build a little flexibility into your plans to accommodate some advances in technology. Don't be afraid to try the new and the different but do so in measured steps that connect to your strategic education plans. Technology is changing faster than your three year plans. Stay as current of technology as your budget will reasonably allow. Be prepared for continual change and adjust accordingly. Plan on it!

A Key 5 ROI: Unifying Marketing and Promotion thru Social Media

Flickr photo by UW Digital Collections

Last February one of our staff, Jacob Robinson convinced me and several others that we should join him and several marketing and sales folks from FedEx Services for dinner at a local Georgetown restaurant. As it turned out, not only was it a great dinner but perhaps one of the more significant business learning experiences that I have been exposed to in a long time. The social conversation turned from advertisements during the Super Bowl to exposure to the type of information and education that many senior executives would pay handsome sums to experience. Our host for the evening was William Margaritis, Senior VP Global Communication & Investor Relations, FedEx. FedEx has been regularly ranked in the top 10 on the FORTUNE magazine “World’s Most Admired Companies” and “Best Places to Work.” Under his leadership, the FedEx communications program has been recognized as “best-of class” in the discipline of reputation management.

Blog contribution by Jacob Robinson, Curriculum Development Manager at the Green Education Foundation.

Social media has become a buzz term that we hear talked about in our offices and see written about in news and blogs nearly every day for the past couple of years. “How to Maximize Social Media in Your Firm” or association or something similar is a common title for blogs and articles that seek to provide strategies on embracing social media in a holistic and meaningful way. Yes, social media is in. It’s hip. Everyone is talking about it and everyone is doing it. In other words, “If you’re not there; you’re noticeably absent,” as a 2010 study by FedEx Corporation stated. Companies and organizations everywhere on the planet are participating in social media in one way or another, with many continually increasing their annual budgets for such programs in both external and internal communications.

However, be wary of the rewarding temptation to only use social media as a promotional tool; while you may see an ROI of views, retweets, and hits, this limiting output could put your company at risk of relying too much on brand. As companies like FedEx and Southwest Airlines are successfully showing best results come from fully integrating social media into your promotions and your marketing business plan. Even for smaller organizations, it is paramount to understand that social media is a two-way street, whether B2C or B2B, your level of engagement (including follow-ups to posts and tweets) is a key factor to successful implementation. With social media, you have at your hands a powerful set of tools to show the world the culture of your business, not just what products and services your business provides, but who you are as an organization. Through these means, you can effectively promote your education program and build brand reputation leading to customer loyalty and business strength.

I want to end by first thanking Mr. Margaritis for a wonderful evening, both entertaining and educational. You have an excellent sales and marketing staff in the DC area. And next, I would like to thank Jacob Robinson for writing this blog and convincing me that the business dinner would be much more valuable than just food and wine. Best of luck Jacob on your new position!

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