Organizational Development

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 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.

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!

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!

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 Fifth Key to Successful Education Programs and Courses: Marketing and Promotion.

Photo on Flickr by Mikko Luntiala

Note that I use two action words here, marketing and promotion. If the education program is intended for internal organizational use then be sure that your marketing plan is related to the needs assessment of your staff and indirectly to your clients. If the organization has fewer than 50 staff, internal promotion can be simple. Usually internal promotion can be successful on the organizations website, internal newsletter, email blast or a notice taped next to the coffee or soda machine.

If the program or course is intended for external use then be sure that your education marketing plan is included as part of your overall organization plan. Many organizations believe that by simply marketing their organization brand, that they are also promoting their courses. Education programs and courses succeed or fail based upon the success of the promotion campaigns of individual or collective courses or specialized education programs. You can have the world’s most advanced cutting edge course that is taught by the most knowledgeable subject matter expert (SME), which is delivered in the most appropriate format, and offered at the right price - but if your target audience doesn’t know about it – it will fail. Those organizations that rely on their reputation and organizational marketing alone will likely fail in their education efforts. When it comes to education, adequate promotion and advertisement of your courses or education products is essential. Budget accordingly with separate line items for promotion and advertising of education courses within the overall marketing budget.

What Content?€- The missing fourth key for product manufacturers.

The missing fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program for the product manufacturers and service providers includes external assistance. Product manufacturers can be effective in the developing a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Product manufacturers are rarely effective in the design and development of the actual course that they offer. If a product manufacturer was to ask, €œWhat do I want the participant of this education program to be able to do upon completion of this class? The answer would be? If your first thought was to either buy or use our product you would be among the vast majority.

I have reviewed thousands of product manufacturer course evaluations. I have listened to hundreds of professionals talk about manufacturer'€™s courses. And I have sat in on hundreds of these courses myself over a period of more than 20 years. I have just one piece of advice for the product manufacturers who are thinking of develop these courses, get out side professional help.

What the product manufacturer often does have is a reliable source of new content and potential material that could be used to offer a steady new supply of continuing education courses offerings. Instead they often teach the same one, two or three courses over and over. There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which a product manufacturer can choose. Unfortunately they are so often locked into the mainstream sales and marketing approach that requires they stand in front of their customer. While this may still be the most effective for them the rest of the world is moving on without them. And then you must ask: "Where are the learning objectives?" Remember that we are talking about education courses and they are not supposed to be direct sales pitches.

Over the years I have seen many very good product manufacturer courses. CertainTeed offers some excellent examples. They were ever a multiple winner of the AIA/CES Award for Education Excellence. And as you can guess, they used education consultants to assist in the development and design of their courses. I only ask of most product manufacturers, please do not try to do development and design education courses on your own.

“What Content?”- An opportunity for firms, use the fourth key to unlock the secrets of a quality education program.

Firms that are serious about professional development can use the fourth key as a framework for ensuring that their staff receives quality professional education. Firms are in a unique position in that they often are the source of knowledge; they have the subject matter experts (SME). This positions the firm as the leader and potential source of content. They are an excellent source to develop project based courses built from lessons learned from their own projects. At a minimum, these studies can be used in mentoring programs and establishing a firm culture of learning.

Let me begin with small firms, I define this as any firm with under 25 staff. Smaller firms should collaborate; work with other similar firms or even some client firms. When it comes to professional development your firm will benefit more if you cooperate with other firms on mutual interest topics. Remember, there is strength in numbers. Individuals from small firms usually rely on trade and professional association meetings, workshops, and conferences for much of their education. This is a great source for broad based professional education and includes the added benefit of networking. But for a more focused approach of obtaining education that is also related to addressing your business needs consider setting up some type of education “collective”. As a collective you increase the number of eyes that are scanning for that reliable source of new continuing education content and materials that is right for your business. The source of the education content may now be internal from anyone within the collective, or external as is common, or a blend of both.

It should be noted that all successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identify, obtain and monitor the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. A consistent approach to how the content follows a process flow enables the firm to establish and maintain checks and balances. As a firm grows in size, more effort should be placed on establishing a work flow process that monitors these elements.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which a firm can choose. According to ASTD, in 2010 for the first time in history the number of online education courses had passed the number of traditional classroom style courses. So ask, which model is best for the firm and the clients that they are trying to serve? (Yes, include your clients s some of your internal education activities).

“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.

Firms find the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Professional firms would not consider skipping planning and performance projection when developing their business operations. Why then do firms suddenly forget this critical element when it comes to the development of their staff? Just like a business, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program is planning and performance projection. To get to this level we must assume that senior management is committed to the development of their staff and are willing to support internal efforts. And that firms use the same sound business practice of developing measurable short and long-term goals with performance projections when setting the firm’s education goals.

Firms have an opportunity here to incorporate education into job performance projections when developing annual staff revues. This creates a more knowledgeable staff, helps create an internal career path and, and builds a better business. Architecture firms such as FreemanWhite Inc., HOK, and Cannon Design have employed this approach for years to improve the skills of their staff, improve recruitment and retention, and expand their business. These firms and others like Turner Construction and Perkins + Will spent two to three years each developing measurable short term educational goals before they saw key education results. All of these firms continued on their long path toward developing quality education curriculum that support their staff and business plans.

Because the social, economic, and global environments are changing firms need to incorporate these changes and adjust education their goals. In these tough economic times it is important to develop realistic budgets to support the continuing professional development to stay competitive. Review of long term education goals need take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions.

Remember that professional education and development should not be an add-on or after thought. Take a look at the fortune 500 companies and you will note that professional education and development is incorporated into their overall business strategy. The size of the firm should only influence what resources address the solution.

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