Continuing Education

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

Flickr Photo by NASA on The Commons

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 Successful Association Education: Marketing and Promotion.

Associations can be successful by concentrating on their core mission. Their marketing approach should draw attention to the mission using a focused brand image. But just because the overall marketing approach contributes to the success of the association do not expect that same approach to work as well for the association’s education program or courses. When I discuss education within the context of an association I go back to my first key to building a successful education program - the commitment and support from the association’s leadership toward supporting and promoting the education program. Needless to say, the association’s education program should support the mission. However, while providing mission support education programs are still bound to their own set of traditional guidelines and business rules. My experience tells me that everyone knows what good education looks like – just ask them. Everyone has gone to school and attended classes at some point in their life. And everyone has an opinion on which teachers or instructors they liked or didn’t like, and why they feel that way. I call this the education expectations of the association’s leaders and members. Key two is critical in focusing in on the education expectations of the members through needs assessment.

For associations the fifth key is to promote the mission through education while identifying the related issues and developing education content that is offered to the membership meeting their expectations. The leaders of the association education must commit to including a separate promotion and advertising campaign of their education programs and courses not only to the general membership but also to targeted, special interest groups. I do not know of any association that would try to hold an annual conference or convention and not provide a directed promotion and advertising campaign to support that effort. Within most annual conferences you find sub-groups, those looking for information that addresses their interest.

There are those that believe that by simply marketing the association brand, they are also promoting their education courses. I do not hold that belief. What I have observed working closely with numerous associations over the years: poor promotion and advertising generally results in poor results based upon industry standard measurements of successful. Education programs and courses frequently succeed or fail based upon the success of the promotion campaigns of individual courses or specialized education programs such as certificate programs. You can have the world’s most advanced cutting edge courses taught by the most knowledgeable subject matter experts (SME), and delivered in the most appropriate formats at the right price - but if your target audience doesn’t know about event – it will fail. Associations that rely primarily on their reputation and branding for the association alone will incur poor results for their education efforts. When it comes to education adequate promotion and advertisement of the courses, related products, and services is essential for success.

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

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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?”- 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.

“What Content?”- The fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program.

Photo on Flickr by cogdogblog Alan Levine

The fourth key to unlocking the secrets of an a quality education program for an organization is for the organization to develop a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Regardless of the type of organization, the organization will need to have a reliable source of new content and materials to be in a position to offer a supply of 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. A consistent approach to how the content follows a process flow enables the organization to establish and maintain a quality checks and balances.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which an organization can choose. Which one is best for the organization and the customers that they are trying to serve? Developing clear course learning objectives, when done at the beginning of the process and when done properly will guide the education administrators in selecting the appropriate subject matter experts (SME), the best course design and format, and the most effective delivery method for a course. When this process is repeated following an established yet flexible system the quality of the overall program increases. 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 the system checks to insure that they requirements are matched.

The established system can be as simple as a check list or as complex as a sophisticated computer metrics. The organization administrators can determine what works best for them, as long as they establish a system.

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.

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.

For Associations – The third key to unlocking the secrets of quality education

For associations, the third key to developing a quality education program is planning and performance projection. For many associations, education for their members and the profession is part of the mission statement. If it is not part of the mission statement then it is critical that senior management is committed and supportive. And of course, after analyzing the results of your needs assessments, it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals.

The short term goals will likely focus on courses, workshops, webinars, conferences and other content related offerings. These can be one hour, 3 days, 6 weeks or 12 months in duration. However, these offerings should all be directly interrelated to short term, overall program goals of 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 change or be adjusted quickly 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.

You should plan long term of at least 3 -5 years for your core programs. Expect that technology; social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. In today’s environment the probability is that you will have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should be a continual process. It is critical for both the association and the membership that education analysis occur during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions and that the education program projections tie into the overall association mission statement and business operational plan.

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.

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