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

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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.

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

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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!

The Fifth Key for Firms to Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion.

The Fifth Key for Firms to Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion.
The emphasis for most firms is internal professional development of their own staff. Those firms that think strategically will include key clients when it is appropriate to share knowledge and information on common critical elements of a project during their training sessions. Even though most training is internal for firms I still want to highlight the fact that there are two actions that need attention as the firm builds their education programs, marketing and promotion.

Be sure that your firm’s education strategic plan is integrated into the business marketing plan. As part of the strategic development process, include a targeted needs assessment of not only your staff but one that includes the education needs of your clients as well. For your firm to be most effective your staff will need to be aware of the knowledge level of your clients related to the projects you are working on together. Do your clients need to have your staff teach them through each step of the project or merely inform them of your progress as you work through the scope of work? If you find that your staff consistently needs to train your clients then you need to be sure that your staff is knowledgeable about the subject and know how to train your client. How does this become a part of the firm’s marketing plan? Your trained staff becomes a selling point.

During the past several years, in large part due to the economy most firms have had to alter their approach to offering internal education to their staff. Most firms cut back on staff support, others released their education staff, and still other firms cut out the budget for education entirely. According to Jill Faulkenberry, PHR, Director of Human Resources at the architecture firm FreemanWhite, Inc., firms have had to reduce their education efforts and become smarter about how they offer professional development. I asked Jill, with four offices, Charlotte, NC, San Diego, CA, Nashville, TN, and Leeds, UK how do you communicate what, when, where, how and why staff should take internal classes. Jill stated that even with an award winning sophisticated intranet system FreemanWhite relies on the basics. Jill says the firm uses staff meetings to promote important upcoming training; those the firm leadership believes support the mission and/or culture. The most widely used promotion method is email and the notice taped next to the coffee machine. For the FreemanWhite Academy – a structured program that is integrated into the employee’s performance appraisal and promotions, the classes are promoted on the FreemanWhite internal website and internal newsletter. Jill stresses, “keep the promotion timely, accurate and simple.”

As the Director of the FreemanWhite Academy Jill realized that sometimes it is better to let others provide support and assistance. Thinking strategically FreemanWhite wanted to share some of their in-house developed courses with the rest of the design and construction industry. To achieve this goal FreemanWhite Academy partnered with AEC Daily to market and promote some of their online classes.

The third key to a quality education program for product manufacturers

A great opportunity for product manufacturers in the architect/engineer/construction (A/E/C) and design industry is to provide product and service education to the professionals in the industry. This opportunity is most frequently offered on site at the professional’s office. Less often the product manufacturer will offer their education courses on site at a local chapter of the professional such as the American Society for Interior Design (ASID), or Construction Specification Institute (CSI), or the American Institute of Architects (AIA). And like the associations, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program: planning and performance projection. If the product manufacturer offers education to professionals they are likely to have commitment and support of senior management. Based upon how the product manufacturer do an education needs assessment and analysis, that results will greatly determine the actual education product that they deliver.

The product manufacturer should plan their short term education goals at a minimum of two to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs in today’s economy will take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the serious results programmatically or financially. Since the product manufacturer will incorporate sales projections into their goals, they should include additional time to what would be considered short term return on investment (ROI). Product manufacturers such as CertainTeed, USG, and Custom Building Products offer excellent examples of how developing comprehensive quality education programs built around the needs of the professionals they serve also helped the companies achieve sales objectives. These three companies designed courses based upon needs assessments that helped professionals understand the right product to use and under the right conditions to reach the maximum results. Better installation of products equated to more satisfied customers. Each of these companies created multiple interrelated courses which evolved into a comprehensive, award winning education program. These companies built in a continuing process and a system that provided them with the flexibility and ability to make course adjustments over the years.

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

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The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program include planning and performance projection. We will assume by now that you have the commitment and support of senior management. Now based upon your needs assessments and analysis it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals with performance projections of key education results. The short term goals should be between one to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs often take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the major results programmatically or financially. Individual courses may take 6 - 18 months but entire curriculum or certificate programs need time to grow. You should have built in a continuing needs assessment process and a system that will provide you with the flexibility to make course adjustments. The better your needs assessment processes the few adjustments you should need to make – maybe.

In today’s Internet and technology environment, 3 years can be a lifetime for some products or service media’s. That stated you should still plan long term of at least 3 -5 years. Expect that the social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. Plan on those changes and plan on the possibility that you may have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions. It is important that the education program projections also tie into the overall business strategy.

Depending upon the magnitude of the education program long term plans, you should consider some to be as long as a 10 – 20 year program. The larger the audience that you are trying to affect the longer the program will take to design, plan and implement. The medical, accounting and architects set out to change the education structure for their entire professions. It took more than 20 years, and the professions are still adjusting. Higher education and government have used distant learning models for decades and even pioneered the early models of the internet in the 1980’s for education. But even these early users have to adjust to the current models of knowledge exchange via the worldwide web. Today they need a vision that looks out 10 -20 years.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key for product manufacturers to unlock for quality education

Education offered by a product manufacturer usually originates from the marketing department. From the point of view of the product manufacturer education is used as a tool to open the door to the professional’s office, to gain access and face time with the professional. As part of the marketing department, access to market research about the product is given a high priority. What is often lacking is a needs assessment related to the education development of the product based upon a systematic approach for gathering trend data related to the target market audience that the manufacturer is trying to reach. Relying upon feedback of a marketing representative (reps) is too often the only assessment that a company may use to obtain education type feedback. If this is the primary method, the company should at least train the reps as to how they should collect data so that it can be assimilated into the larger marketing research data and development of courses. It is important for the product manufacturer to determine how the needs for the education programs, products, or services are identified and how the supporting courses are developed and designed to address those needs.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of quality association education

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of quality association education

Professional associations are generally structured in an idyllic position to gather “state of the industry” data. If anything, the greatest problem that professional associations should face is possible information overload. The best possible scenario would be for the education and research to be under the leadership of the same department. For an association education leader it is critical to sort through key trend setting data that focus on the strategic goals. The association should annually identify, review and analyzing the industries educational needs that relate to the overall strategic plan.

If needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs or "gaps" then professional associations are well suited to play the role of leaders and use this information for improvement of its members and stakeholders through education and training. The individual members that make up professional association - are the industry experts. This unique opportunity allows for the association to identify the needs early, as issues start to become important or profession gap needs to be filled. This also means that the association has an opportunity and advantage and should be among the early leaders to provide the education that addresses trends and fills any missing gaps. Effective utilization of the member “experts” provides a pool that the association can draw from to help design and deliver the education based upon ongoing needs assessment.

A difficulty of many associations is trying to selectively limit the number of times each month the association reaches out to its membership soliciting feedback through opinion polls. For education and training assessments there are a growing variety of models to from which to choose. The education leader of the association needs to work closely with other department heads to be sure that whatever information is collected, that it be analyzed for trends. Trend setting information can then be converted to education programs or courses and then delivered in the most effective delivery format.

Methods and techniques for gathering information can vary from formal member focus groups, to telephone or mail surveys, to online surveys such as survey monkey. The intent should be to gather timely information to enable those in the association to make smart decisions based upon relevant and appropriate information. Select a model or a blend of models which most closely match your association goals, operations, personnel and budget.

Commitment - A key to unlocking the secrets to establishing a quality education program

The first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program within your organization is to gain commitment and support internally. It must start at the top of the organization. But in order for your education program to achieve excellence it will need more than just senior level support. For the program to be truly outstanding it needs senior management’s involvement in creating and sustaining the organization’s educational direction, performance, and focus. This includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the organization. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Like any business, to achieve quality you need to think strategically which includes a long term investment of time, involvement of people and investing of dollars. To be successful the education program must be integrated within the working foundation of the organization. In order for the strategic process to be maintained and succeed there must be a buy-in, a commitment at all levels of the organization. This means there are no lasting quick fixes.

Leadership Involvement summary includes:
1. Senior leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
2. Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
3. Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
4. Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements by the senior management and you are taking your first steps to building a successful program.

Chief Learning Officer (CLO)