Continuing Professional Development

Building a Design Firm's Professional Development Program -€“ Evaluation and Improvement

Photo of an evaluation form

This final segment of an eight part series covers evaluation, feedback, and continuous improvements. As before, I have assembled requirements from various award programs that appear among several prestigious organizations with consistency. My intent here has been to provide a self-assessment tool that can be used to help improve and more effectively manage a firm's professional education department.

All successful programs include an evaluation and feedback process. A system should be established that will evaluate each course, service or product against (Key 3) measurable short and long-term educational goals using performance projections. Don'€™t collect data just because you can. Collect what you need to help make informed decisions. And if you collect it, don'€™t ignore the information and let it collect dust. Use the information to continually improve your program, build your reputation as a quality organization, and become more profitable.

KEY 7: Evaluation and Improvement

This section provides a list of award winning recommendations for the areas of educational evaluation and program improvement. For each section below there is and established process.

Selection of Information and Data Collection
1. Determine what program evaluation information should be collected, maintained, and reviewed.
2. Addresses the methods used to evaluate the quality of the education program.

Evaluation and Review of Educational Performance
3. Determining comparative data to be used to measure performance.
4. Evaluation of the educational system with identified areas for improvement.
5. Determining how learning activities reach their stated objectives.

Education-Specific Results
6. Evaluate performance results for education services, programs, certification, and licensure compliance.
7. Using information to improve program effectiveness.
8. Keeping current with the changing educational needs of the audience.

Accessibility and Complaint Management
9. Providing access and information to participants who seek assistance or voice complaints about the educational activities.
10. Ensures that complaints are resolved effectively and promptly.

Feedback and Continuous Improvement
11. Insures information is and data shared and reviewed by leadership, and appropriate committees and individuals with the expectations of continual improvement.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice learning and development.

Overlooked Internal Training Sources for A/E Firms

Use Professional Presentations for Internal Development

This summer I was reading a firm’s internal newsletter and noticed that there were at least sixteen instances of the firm's staff providing presentations and white papers at a variety of fall, national and international conferences and workshops. Some of the professional associations that were hosting these events would be recording the presentations. In a few instances these recorded presentations would later be converted to recordings or webinars and sold for a profit by the association or organization.

Having worked with associations for many years I realize that some associations rely upon the professional members to give back to the profession by sharing their knowledge. I believe that this is a great service and I encourage professionals to share their knowledge and research with the industry that they represent. This knowledge sharing process has been going on for decades with the A/E industry. It has been a win-win for the professional and the association. The professional is provided a platform upon which she/he can share their knowledge, research and opinions. The association wins by being viewed as a reliable source of knowledge within the industry, and in some cases receiving a revenue source for providing seminars, workshops, recording and webinars to the profession.

The source of the knowledge most certainly comes from the professionals and the firm that support the research and experience. The winners here are usually those professionals who sit in attendance during the conference or workshop or who later purchase the video or webinar. What is so often missed – the professional’s presentation that is recorded at a conference for future redistribution and sales is not captured by the very firm that supports the professional’s research and experience in the first place. To add to the problem, the firm usually has to pay additional fees for their other employee members who want to hear or view the recorded presentation given by their fellow employee. In other words, firm end up paying the association for a copy of the recording or webinar that was provided by their own employee.

Professional development within an A/E firms has evolved during the past decade. It is time to re-think how A/E firms share and distribute their intellectual property with professional associations. I offer two suggestions to this dilemma.

One, the firm’s legal department should create a contract that predetermines use, sale and resale of related material of any presentation that is recorded by an association or hosting organization. If the original presentation is going to be recorded and used in any way as a revenue source for the association or hosting organization, then at a minimum a copy of the presentation should be provided to the firm for its own internal use and training.

A second option, the firm could record the presentation themselves and copyright the material. They could then distribute the material internally for reuse, internal training and sharing of select material with their clients. By copyrighting the presentations the firm could shape how the material might be used or redistributed by another organization at a later date. .

With So Many MOOCs How Can Associations and Non-Profit’s Compete?

Laptop Computer photo from Flickr Commons

Massive open online courses or MOOCs are challenging and disrupting the traditional models of higher education and the practices of corporate learning and development.
In a recent article, Here Come the MOOCs, by Frank Kalman (Chief Learning Officer, January 2014) Mr. Kalman writes about the impact of MOOCs and the influence they are having on corporate learning. I will add, if the corporate world has to adjust to MOOCs, so too will professional and trade associations and non-profit organizations.

Two years ago, when I was working for a global engineering and design firm I wrote the blog Free Learning and Development Resources – 7 Tips. The blog included the names and websites for several of the same open online courses providers that Mr. Kalman discusses in his 2014 article. My purpose for writing the blog was to introduce to the firms’ staff, some free educational resources, beyond those that the firm offered internally. In the U.S. and Canada, most of the firm’s staff had historically relied upon internal training or professional and trade associations for their professional development training. Considering the increasing volume of MOOCs, a tight economy, the ease of mobile learning, and the increasing competition of industry specific online education providers – where does that now leave professional and trade associations and non-profits who offer education?

The root and strength of associations and non-profits has been their networking opportunities and the ability to share ideas related to common interest and issues. We know that social networking is radically changing the professional networking landscape. Still, these organizations are usually viewed by their members, and in some case the general public, as a reliable source of information that supports the betterment of the industry or mission of those involved. Professional and trade associations and non-profit organizations need to focus on their mission, their niche. Does the mission include the education and development of their members or the public? If the answer is yes to either or both of these audiences then the next step is to consider what knowledge they need to impart or information they want to share, that best serves their organizations interest. The mission focus of the association and non-profit organization is one of the major advantages they have over MOOCs. It can also align them closer with segments of the corporate world than the MOOCs. If monitored closely, the focus provides them with a competitive edge with early insight to practice changes, key issues and trends of a specific industry. Beyond specific issues and industry needs, associations and non-profit organizations can more logically tailor their business courses such as leadership, marketing, project management, accounting and legal practices to the specific needs of their membership. They should also have intimate knowledge of what and when certifications and, or continuing education license requirements are due. Depending upon available resources, technical capabilities, and finances, they should be able to adapt quickly with the most effective delivery format for their membership and interest groups.

Converting In-person Courses to Online Courses: Where do I start?

Jean Valence, Instructor led class

Today there are numerous tools, platforms and resources available. Prices vary greatly depending upon what you are trying to accomplish or what your course outcomes are expected to be. You might start with some free resources, such as YouTube.com and type in “Teaching Online” or “Online Teaching Best Practices.” Some of this material can be especially useful for those who are converting their technical classroom courses to something like WebEx. Webex can be an affordable approach for many small and mid-sized organizations that want to highlight expertise among your staff or members providing 30 minute to one hour presentations.

For those who want to become a more knowledgeable about “Online Teaching Best Practices.”, check out some of the books from Amazon. While a lot of the books are aimed more towards the longer online classroom environments, the concepts and principals are still valid for the shorter online modules and courses. If you are thinking ahead to a fuller value platform, such as Blackboard Collaborative, these texts would be helpful. I would recommend the LERN textbook, Designing Online Instruction. It is a very practical “how to” book that also covers “How-to techniques” for the design of online instruction.

For those serious about becoming online instructors, I suggest the 3 part series, Certified Online Instructor program. This certificate is offered by LERN and available from our website, Lowther7. More than 1600 corporate and university professors have taken these practical courses. Another valuable resource that offers certification for online instruction is ASTD.

A Situational Approach to Mentoring in a Firm

There are several advantages for a firm to build, develop and maintain a mentoring program. The advantages are many and some obvious. Among the reasons for a implementing a mentoring program, expanding the skills of your staff, improved recruitment, retention, and return on investment (ROI). So why do so many firm choose not to implement a mentoring program? Size of the firm may be one factor. However, you really can implement a mentoring program with just two staff – at least a traditional mentoring format. Larger firms of 20, 50, 100 or more have the staff but too often they are concerned that the process takes time (translated – money) and it does, but so does the traditional route of staff training. Finally, a firm may not have anyone knowledgeable enough about how to set up, organize, and run a mentoring program. This leaves them three primary options: assignment to the HR staff function; assign to the program to a professional practice committee; or hire a part-time consultant to run the program.

Taking a firm mentoring program to a higher level – beyond that of the traditional pairing approach - does require a knowledgeable HR manager at the operationally level, or a committed professional practice committee, or an experienced consultant. The foundation to situational mentoring is built upon the management concept of situational leadership, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. A successful mentoring program requires that a mentor is able to share, convey, teach and/or impart their knowledge or skills to the mentee. The core of the Blanchard model, Situational Leadership II, highlights four primary leadership delivery styles: directive, coaching, supportive, and delegating. Like any good leader, the mentor is likely to be most effective in one or two delivery styles and less so in the others. A practical strength of situational leadership is that it also takes into consideration the development level of the subordinate, or in this case the mentee. Using a four step sliding scale the mentee is rated on competence and commitment.

To build a situational mentoring program think in terms of a social networking format structure, pairing the best or most knowledgeable mentor at the right time and in the right situation when the mentee has the most need or desire to learn. A mentoring program within a firm takes on and becomes part of the firm culture. A mentoring program is not an add-on program and should not be treated as such. Coordinating the program is not an easy assignment but it is critical to the program’s success. Whoever is assigned to manage the program should have the conceptual and personal skills that will be necessary to correctly match mentors with mentees at the appropriate times and under the right situations. Remember, the win – win of situational mentoring comes when the mentor uses his or her most effective delivery style matched correctly to the level of development of the mentee at the time of need.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_leadership_theory

Learning Objectives Simplified: Check out the New Bloom’s Taxonomy Tool

Candle Flame

The tool is simple, easy to understand, and easy to use. If you are the course designer, a trainer, an instructor, or the firm's Learning and Development Coordinator, Manager, Director or the CLO - this tool will make your professional life a little easier. If only this tool had been available during the past 30 years.

I would like to thank the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at the University of Iowa for posting on their website the Model of Learning Objectives. This model was created by: Rex Heer, Iowa State University.

Sharing this tool with my professional peers who are working in the A/E/C design industry, this is probably the best gift I can offer for the New Year. Try it for yourself; I think you will like it.

Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

If you have trouble accessing the interactive Flash-based model the content is available in a text-only table.

Free Learning & Development Resources - 7 Tips

Open Source Education

For those of you in the A/E design profession who have difficulty finding free time during a 24/7 work week consider a free, on-demand, learning–in-the-moment approach to supplement your formal training and on-the-job experience. There are a variety of free online resources available to you. Here are some great tricks and online resources for developing your own, personal professional learning skills and development.

7 Tips to Getting Started:
1. Formulate what you need to know. This is called your learning objective and can be revised as you go, but take your best shot when you begin. (Tip: Start with your annual training objectives).
2. Use search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube (the largest source of online learning) to find three kinds of information: specific, general, and connected.
3. Use search engines to find tutorials, ebooks, online courses and classes – the obvious. But also search and locate online communities (blogs, forums, associations, white papers and chat rooms).
4. Evaluate each resource that you encounter to determine if they relate or are connected to your learning objectives.
5. Organize your information for reading and assembly. If you are learning something that takes longer than a day, you can use free websites like All My Faves and Symbaloo to organize and group your links, and then retrieve them with one click.
6. Read, take notes, and learn the way you learn best.
7. If you have a certificate, membership or license -MCE requirements be sure to record and track your progress. You can do this for free in an EXCEL file or for those of you with a state license and who are willing to pay a little for convenience and due date reminders try AECredentialing.

7 Options of Open Source Courses…..

Coursera:
Outstanding engineering related college-courses from universities like Duke University, Rice University, Escole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, University of Pittsburgh, and Princeton.

Class Central:
A gateway to a variety of online and self-paced courses offered by Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Berkley, Udacity, and Courses.

MIT OpenCourseWare:
Free Online courses from MIT in energy, transportation, environment, business and others areas.

Open Culture – 625 Free Online courses:
625 Free online and self-paced courses offered by Harvard, UC Berkley,
MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford, that include the sciences, computers, Engineering (Mechanical, Civil & Electrical), Environmental, and basic business.

Ted Conference Videos:
Best for exposure and finding things to learn more about online. Inspirational, informative, cutting edgue and less than 20 minutes long.

YouTube/EDU:
YouTube really now functions as a video search engine, and so you can find much more to learn and see on YouTube than just the EDU area. However, this area has been tuned and curated just for good educational content on traditional subjects.

Today I Found Out:
Daily essays of well-researched interesting topics.

I would like to offer a special thanks to Katin Imes at Expedition 21 Media, Inc. for content suggestions.

Instructional Method: A Professional Action Plan

Learning contracts do not need to be complex. A number of years ago when I was involved with the AIA/CES Firm Leadership Symposium we needed to a simple method for an after-training-support-by-the-faculty. The process and tool we developed was simple. At the beginning of the workshop we would spend a few minutes explaining that each participant would be expected to identify at least one goal that they would like to accomplish after the workshop was over and they returned to their work environment. The action plan exercise was always planned at the end of the workshop so should that should they choose, the participants could include some of what they learned during the workshop into their action plan.

First we would discuss the purpose of the action plan. We would provide each participant with a Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan worksheet. The worksheet was intended as a simple structured outline for developing an individual action plan. Each participant was expected to identify at least one goal or action that they wanted to complete. The Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan required that the participants respond to 7 questions:

What is the goal?
What are the strengths related to achieving the goal?
What obstacles are we likely face?
What opportunities would likely be present?
What resources would they need?
What action steps are needed to complete the plan?
What were the related timelines?

First the participants would work to complete their own action plans. Additional time was then set aside to work in pairs - sharing with each other their goal and how they intend to accomplish it. At the end of the exercise participates exchanged POC information and committed to contacting each other after 30 days and again after 60 days.

The group faculty member or facilitator can become as involved after the event as appropriate. For those who did make contact at the 30 day mark, most went on to complete their goals. This process can be accomplished on-site, on-line or as a blended approach. I have since used the action plan approach successfully at the executive, manager and supervisory levels, and in both the private and public sectors. Hope this provides you with enough information. If you would like a free WORD copy of the worksheet just contact me directly at tlowther7@gmail.com.

How to Analyze a Case Study

Photo by Thom Lowther

Most of you who know me well know that I believe passionately in the use of cases studies as a learning tool. Years ago I discovered a excellent tool for analyzing case studies in the "Handbook for Training and Development" published by ASTD. I share below a simplified version of tool. I have used it often - in professional firms, in associations workshops and in college classrooms.

When analyzing a case study, an orderly, step-by-step approach is helpful. It is important to gain an appreciation of the overall situation initially, as well as to learn what information is contained in the case. Therefore, it is suggested that the case study be skimmed first to gain this overall perspective. While or after doing so, jot down the key points and issues that come to mind, as well as your first impression of the problems, issues, and opportunities facing the company. Then read the case in detail, adding to and modifying your initial thoughts. Remember that not everything in the case is vitally important, nor is all the important information necessarily included. The case represents someone's (e.g., management's) description of the company and its situation - it is up to you to probe deeper, sort and shift things out, and acquire additional information. It is your responsibility to analyze and recommend alternatives and approaches to management.

The following guide may be helpful to you in your task:

1. Define the situation. What are the challenges, problems, potential problems, opportunities, and potential opportunities facing the company? Typically, the case will contain various systems you will have to diagnose. To do so, try and isolate the major issues facing the company and their causes. Keep in mind that there are likely to be sub and secondary issues, as well as related and perhaps extraneous issues described in the case. Your task is to assign priorities to the issues, focusing on the critical few.

2. Assemble and analyze the important facts (gleaned from the case) which bear on the situation.

3. Specify important information that is needed but not included in the case. Determine whether or not it is available elsewhere. If available, acquire about it.

4. Make assumptions! For important information that is not available from the case or elsewhere, make logical assumptions as to what it might be. State these assumptions.

5. Draw conclusions Based on your analysis, information, and assumptions.

6. Determine alternatives and their likely outcomes. What are the major alternative actions open to the company, and what is likely to happen if each is adopted? Evaluate each.

7. Make recommendations. Based on your analysis, what do you recommend to management and why? Be prepared to defend your recommendations under critical questioning by the instructor and the class (the types of questions which might be posed by the company's management and other stakeholders).

8. Prepare an implementation plan. How should your recommendation be implemented, by whom? and in what sequence (short-term versus long-term actions). Where will the resources come from?

9. Prepare contingency plans. What do you recommend if your suggestions do not work as anticipated, or if certain external or internal conditions change?

Continuing Professional Education Audit Options for Associations

Certificates: A growing trend

There is a variety of approaches to providing continuing professional education quality assurance (QA) or compliance audits of association’s members. Regardless of whether the intend is to meet internal association education requirements, state mandatory continuing education (MCE) licenses related requirements, or continuing education requirements to maintain a specific skill certification. Below I will outline three approaches to conducting such audits or reviews from the auditing organizations perspective.
1. Professional Member Solely Responsible

The simplest approach for an association is to place full responsibly of compliance on the individual member. The member is responsible for everything relate to compliance. The member’s responsibilities would start from taking and completing the appropriate coursework and obtaining proof of passing the course requirements successfully at an acceptable level and in a timely manner. The responsibility of maintaining accurate records and reporting results to meet related requirements also becomes the full responsibility of the individual. Like taxes, there is generally a compliance time period that all records need to be maintained.

In this model the association only requests documentation from the individual member under extreme situations. Examples may include, but not be limited to a complaint or charge of fraud or incompetence by a client or customer. Another example, the individual member might be charged with a related legal violation or a professional ethics violation. Request of the individuals related continuing professional education documentation may be a required part of their defense. In this model a special review panel should be appointed to review and verify the documentation.

2. Blended Responsibility Model
Another approach would still require that the member be responsible for maintaining all continuing professional education documentation related to their meeting the association’s and/or certification requirements.
This model requires commitment and dedicated resources on the part of the association as they take a more systematic approach. This model requires that a small percentage of the members be audited on a regular pre-determined basis (5 - 20%). The association needs to commit at least a part-time dedicated reviewer that will be responsible to review and verify the documentation. A special audit/review task group should be appointed to establish guidelines and a review process policy. They should also act as a final decision making body for all disputed audits outside of a legal system. The established review process needs to be published and made available to all participants.

3. Association Commitment Model

An extensive association commitment approach should include a blended approach to records maintenance. While the responsibly of compliance falls on the member, course content and delivery should be a role that the association is at least involved with supporting and monitoring. The record keeping in this model becomes a shared approach.

Through an automated system it would be possible to offer a full menu of services. This could includes a selection of courses from pre-approved course content providers or listed options of alternate externally approved methods of obtaining the appropriate skills and knowledge. An automated records system can be monitored by the association. Records for members would include appropriate completed coursework that is maintained and monitored during the compliance time period. This approach also allows the association to provide and ongoing audit and review process towards a 100% compliance rate.

Similar to the Blended Responsibility Model an audit/review standing committee should be appointed to establish guidelines and a review process policy. They should also act as a final decision making body for all disputed audits outside of a legal system.

Depending upon the size of the association and the number of members involved, this model would require full time staff dedicated as reviewers responsible to review and verify the documentation. And depending upon the commitment of using an automated system, the service could be either in-house or contracted out. Appropriate staff to support either effort would be required.

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