Association

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?

Are Teaching Methods Important?

Several months ago I noticed what I thought was an interesting question on the LinkedIn, Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, There Barbi Honeycutt, Ph.D. asked, “Why are graduate students required to complete a course in research methods but not in teaching methods?” This question really struck a chord with me having worked in higher education. Dr. Honeycutt is right; the emphasis is extensively on the subject content – which is to be expected. But what is really amazing, the system seems to ignore the fact that, at least in higher education another major component of the process is to impart that knowledge on to the students. It’s as if, because you have so much knowledge you will be able to just tell others all of the important facts and they will be expected to learn from you.

Taking this concept a bit further, outside of higher education and into the association and the private sector - my observation is that so many subject matter experts in all fields are so zoned into the content that they often forget that delivery is part of the communication process. On those occasions where industry experts want to share their knowledge they fall into the same trap. The result, the message is often lost in the research and content. The content, the organization and development of the content, and delivery are all key elements of Instruction. However, content research is not course development, which is not delivery. Each step requires separate yet inter-related skills. You can be highly effective at one or two of the elements, yet miss a third and the course can be a dud.

Adding to the complexities of instruction today is the online instructor category. This requires yet a very different set of skill requirements. Instruction online today is at a minimum - a blend of on-site classroom with an online components, writing skills and leading online group discussions.

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.

Appropriate Education Provider: Line dance or tango?

Dancing Partners or Selecting an Education Partner

Organizations can develop simple certificate programs or complex certification programs. However, before your organization progresses too far into the development of the standards and requirements take a pause and think strategically. During your development process, think about those education providers who will be developing and offering the education courses that support your program. Consider those certificate holders who be required to take classes from the education providers and how in the long term that relates to your overall program. Think strategically about your education providers. Do you set up a system that shapes and influences the education or do you rely on randomness, good luck and the good intentions of the education providers? Let me give you three simple examples of what it could look like and then suggest four indicators that will help you determine if the education provider(s) is the right dance partner for your organization.

If you have ever been to a western style or honky-tonk bar you may have witnessed the country line dance. You know the one - where two or three of the patrons get up on the dance floor in a line and start a two –step motion. After awhile other patrons join in with various levels of skills. This can be entertaining and fun to watch as you never know how the dance will conclude.

Have you seen the Broadway production or the movie of the Chorus Line? It starts out with professional performers who are generally better dancers than your average two-step line dancers. After a lot of practice and rehearsals on the part of these dancers they provide a well choreographed dance routine that even an untrained eye can appreciate.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Argentina and my host took me to a cabaret show where the performers did the tango. It was a totally new level of dance to which I had not been previously exposed. The performers showed a grace, elegance and harmony where the partners performed as one motion.

Now, think about the education providers that your organization relies on to provide the education to your certificate or certification holders. What are your education outcome expectations? There at least four basic indicators that will help you determine the type of dance partner that you are dependent upon.

Do you and your education providers share the value of credibility? Is the big motivator for your organization or that of your education providers to generate revenue as a result of your certification program requirements? Is participation growth the primary concern of your program and that of your education providers? Do you and your providers emphasis quality as the most important issue?

In several of my other blogs I point out seven keys to developing a quality education program. The first key is a strategic approach that stresses the integration of the organization’s short and long term goals. This would include how the education providers would support your certificate or certification program. The second, develop a systematic approach to engage the education providers in a way that benefits and supports your certification program. Do you want the relationship to look like a line dance or a tango?

The Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on Associations

Certificates: A growing trend

A service that many associations offer is continuing professional education (CPE) for their members and the profession, trade or industry that the association represents. These offerings are delivered in a variety of formats. Among those formats, the growing trend to also offer a specialized certificate program or a profession related certification program. These certificates and certifications are becoming widely recognized and accepted by professionals, employers and government agencies. For many the certification has replaced the degree for those who wants to get the promotion or a raise and at a cost generally much expensive than the college degree.

Keeping the definition simple, certificate programs are generally limited in scope of the subject matter, time and accountability. Certificate programs can be as simple as a one day, one class program or they may go for a week or a month. Certificates are generally awarded based upon completion of the course or a limited series of courses. Generally there is no accountability on the part of the association that is offering the certificate about what is actually learned, only that the individual attended the class or program about a given topic.

Associations that offer specialties of Certification are more focused upon continuing professional development (CPD). of the membership and related industry. Certification programs are generally longer, running several months, possibly as much as a year. Certification may be offered after completing one long class or a series of shorter classes. Additionally, many certification programs require updates or renewals every few years. Associations are placing their reputations on the fact that those who complete a certification will have measurable knowledge or skills that are taught in the framework of the certification program.

Associations are not chartered to offer degrees, but some associations similar to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) are working closely with colleges like the Alexandria Technical and Community College to incorporate their certification program into the college program. Other examples of blended cooperation include West Virginia University offering their Forensics Science Initiative (FSI) program in collaboration with the National Institute of Justice. And there is theInternational Facility Management Association (IFMA) offering their certification programs, Facility Management Professional (FMP), Sustainability Facilities Professional (SFP), and their Certified Facility Manager (CFM) program in collaboration with various community colleges across the country. These are all examples of the emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development.

The Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on Higher Education

It about the degree, right?

Let me state my point of view of higher education upfront, I am focusing on the student who is interested in obtaining a college degree to improve their employment options. It may be the graduate student or it could be the undergraduate or the student in a community college or technical school that wants to get a promotion, a better position or a raise. Today, it is also more than likely that these are adult students. They have experienced the stress of a difficult economy and observed the rising cost of tuition. A record number of them have taken on student loans and many now face default. Higher education is about the degree, right? The degree has been the path to gaining knowledge, education and better employment. But tens of thousands of students and employers are questioning the perceived value of that degree.

Along came the Internet with free information. Today you can take free online courses from leading universities such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and other colleges. Suddenly, what had been the exclusive domain of courses for the purpose of receiving college degrees becomes part of anyone’s opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD). But colleges cannot afford to give away their courses and expect to stay in operation. Community colleges, technical colleges and associations are offering certificates and certifications. These certificates and certifications are becoming widely recognized and accepted by professionals, employers and government agencies. Certification may show a demonstration of advanced knowledge, of a competency, and/or a skill. In some cases the certification has replaced the degree for that person who wants to get that promotion, the better position or a raise and the cost of a certification is generally much less that the college degree.

So, what might we expect for higher education? Well, the college degree is not going to go away. Society still values the college tradition, the credibility and trust the college degree. Most colleges will increase their online education programs and online course offerings. For example, the Boston Architectural College offered the first online Sustainable Design degree and their colleges are searching for their niche. Schools will increasingly offer certification programs and the courses that support those programs. Schools will increase the number of partnerships they develop with professional, technical, and trade associations as well as related businesses and industry. Pratt Institute for example, partners with the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA). offering IFMA credential programs using Pratt IFMA certified faculty.

Two major expenses for a college, the campus and the faculty and online education affect both areas. Online education allows the college to expand their reach to students globally without greatly expanding the cost of a facility or an instructor. Partnering with a business or industry and setting up a satellite facility in an office is becoming a common practice. Online education expands the college faculty’s reach globally, 24/7. The online instructor can offer a lecture to hundreds or thousands at a time. It would be similar the professor offering a class lecture in a large auditorium while discussion groups make it more personalized for the student.

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.

Virtual Curriculum: A program design solution for A/E/C firms.

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The responses were interesting and varied when last month I submit this series of questions to more than a dozen online professional discussion groups.

“Does anyone have an example of a virtual curriculum based upon an individual’s subject matter interest rather than group subjects or topics? Is success measured based upon the participant’s mastery of the subject or some type of norm scores? Are the results tied to work performance, pay, or certification?

Quickly, a definition of “virtual” needed to be established. It was generally agreed in most of the discussion groups that “virtual” meant “online.” Bill Brunk, Ph.D asked the question on the CLO Magazine discussion group, “ I wonder if you might not be confusing two concept here: self-directed learning and virtual (online) learning.” Dr. Brunk brought up a good point and I thought we were beginning to address the question but the largest number of immediate responses came from consultants and schools who obviously were trying to market their online courses. If they bothered to look, I too offer online classes on my website– but that did not really address the questions.

To clarify I stated that I wanted to explore the curriculum definition that relates to a set of courses constituting an area of specialization, where curriculum is built around the individual’s interest rather than the institutions offerings. I was looking for more than simply saying we (the association/consultant/university) give online degrees or provide certification in...(fill in the blank).

From the TED discussion group Donald R. (Chip) Levy, a former Senior Director of Professional Development at the AIA responded with, “In common practice, many think of a curriculum as a generally linear, organized learning path to some goal (degree, certification, specialist credential, etc.). For me, the interesting twist has less to do with getting one's ticket punched at the end of a process, and more to do with building a thoughtful, if idiosyncratic, learning program that continually moves each learner toward evolving performance excellence and (career) success. The resources can be from a variety of sources, focused on a variety of KSAs, employing a variety of delivery channels and media, and uniquely aggregated for each person. It is an ongoing, evolutionary prospect -- a "lifelong curriculum" that guides "lifelong learning" as we progress through our careers.”

In conclusion, I believe that technology allows us to expand our learning options in a format where we can pick the one that works best for us. If I take courses at my own discretion I would be reluctant to call that a curriculum. In order for the learning to become a curriculum I would suggest that the process follows a guided path, such as one outlined by a negotiated contract. I would advocate however that the curriculum options are greatly expanded when the learning process is not limited or restricted to just the courses offered by the school, the association or a business. The instructor or consultant thus becomes a learning adviser - guiding the learner toward agreed upon learning goals.

The International Learning Unit: An Expanding Role in Schools

Flickr photo by hohohob

What do West Palm Beach, Florida, Vancouver, British Columbia, Morgantown, West Virginia and Washington, DC have in common? They all host organizations that use the International Learning Unit (ILU) for continuing education courses and programs. In Washington, DC you will find associations that use the ILU. In Morgantown, WV you will find it used at the university, in Vancouver it is used at Langara College and in West Palm Beach, Florida at Forest Hill Community High School. The ILU is used because of its flexibility, its ease of use, and its capabilities of measuring learning, knowledge and skills. The ILU can be used for supporting a professional license or for personal growth.

David Reilly is the Assistant Principal for Adult and Community Education at Forest Hill Community High School. David states that “The ILU may be used in many teaching situations. It must be remembered that we are looking for a mastery of the content. The mastery is set at 80%. Content items may be evaluated through the use of test and quizzes, demonstrations, essays, online discussion, presentations, performance based projects, peer review, and other outcome- based evaluations. It makes sense that if a student is taking a class for the betterment of him or herself that there should be a measurement of how well the student did, and how much he or she learned. Many courses offer different types of instruction and the ILU unit of measurement can be used in all modes of teaching. It is also an advantage if a student is taking a course for his or her present employer. When a certificate is issued with the 80% amount of content mastery shown to an employer the mastery and the amount of ILU’s carries more clout than if a student simply takes a course.”

David told us that it was the instructors that saw a need for the use of the ILU in some of the adult and community education classes that were offered at Forest Hill Community High School. David stated that the instructors of courses such as Quick Books and cake decorating use the ILU because they were looking for a performance based measurement that supported quizzes as well as a demonstration to gain mastery. David indicated that within each lesson there are assigned actions that must be performed by the students. As the student completes assignments the teacher, using a scale for performance grading checks off the performance content and assigns ILU points.

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