IDSA

Industrial Designers Society of America

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.

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.

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.

“What Content?”- Associations struggle with the fourth key of a quality education program.

For most small associations the answer is usually “yes.” For many mid-sized associations the answer is “yes, most of the time.” For large associations the answer is, “well, it depends.” The question asked, “Does your association struggle with the fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program?”

The fourth key to developing a quality education program is for the association to develop a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Most small associations and many mid-sized associations have great difficulty finding appropriate content for their programs on a continual basis. These associations can be found relying on the same few subject matter experts to provide content and delivery, over and over again. Even well stocked wells have been known to go dry.

Regardless of their size associations still need to establish a reliable, wide based source of new content and materials that will position the association as a supplier of vetted, industry related quality continuing education courses. The source of the education content may be internal, external or a blend of both. Successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identifying, obtaining and monitoring the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. Most associations simply do not have enough resources to do all of these things themselves. However, even for the small associations an appropriate check and balance system can be established using limited resources with involvement of members and stakeholders.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which an association can choose. Which one is best for the association and their members and stakeholder? Developing clear course learning objectives, when done at the beginning of the process and when done properly will guide the association in selecting the appropriate subject matter experts (SME), the best course design, the appropriate content structure, and the most effective delivery method for a course. If there are any special requirements such as CEU’s, ILU’s, license or certification standards that need to be met then it is critical to insure that a system of safeguards is in place. An established system can be as simple as a check list or as complex as a sophisticated computer metrics.

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