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 professionalâs 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.
The question I always heard from superiors and peers, âWhereâs the data?â I believe that the seeds for needs assessment should be planted with the establishment of the strategic goals. Early on the organization should develop a systematic approach for identifying and analyzing the educational needs that relate to the overall strategic plan. Planning and analysis are simultaneous and should be ongoing.
As defined by Wikipedia, Needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs, or "gaps" between current conditions and desired conditions, often used for improvement in individuals, education/training, organizations, or communities. The need can be a desire to improve current performance or to correct a deficiency.
For education and training assessments there are a growing variety of models to from which to choose. Select a model or a blend of models which most closely match your goals, operations, personnel and budget. Methods and techniques for gathering information can vary from formal 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 organization to make smart decisions based upon relevant and appropriate information.
If the program is intended for internal use of the organizationâs staff education then it is important to match the model to the organizationâs culture, operational structure, and short and long-term education and professional development needs. The content could relate to technical, conceptual, and/or personnel related needs. It is important to focus on the details of professional staffsâ participation in the needs assessment process. Determine how the needs for the educational program and products/services are identified, how the programs are developed and designed to address those needs.
If the education program is intended for external use, the assessment should relate to the business needs, support the organizations need for delivering training; ensure training delivery design relates to customerâs needs; verifies effective performance; and provides guidance into the evaluation process.
To be right up front and put it out on the table, most product manufacturers develop and offer continuing education to professionals as part of their overall marketing plan. Regardless if the professional that the product manufacturer is trying to influence is an architect, an accountant, a dentist, or a nurse, their education programs are still a major part of their marketing plan. Generally these programs are managed by the marketing and sales department. And now that I have put that out front I want to add, and that is OK, as long as the product manufacturer follows the guidelines that are set out by the professional associations and government regulatory agencies. This means that there is a commitment from the companies top management to support education when offering education to the professionals.
Every award winning product manufacturer, such as CertainTeed, Pella Windows, and Whirlpool - that incorporates continuing education into their marketing plan has support at the highest decision making levels of their business. Regardless of the size of the manufacturer, when the support from above waivers, so too does the content, quality, and delivery of the education product that the manufacturers representatives deliver in the field. To achieve a level of delivering quality product education, the company leadership must think strategically. This means that they commitment long term, through the highs and lows of the business cycles. Most product manufacturers' commit a lot of time and money to offering such programs, even poor ones. Many companies stop short of how the course is designed and delivered. Professionals should ask the questions: Was the course designed in an educational format with legitimate learning objectives? Did the design of the course include results of industry research? Were technical staffs included in providing content? Was this material vetted by the sales force to insure it is what the clients were asking for and not just a push of a product? And did the company provide a train-the-trainer course for those who were presenting and representing the company?
Committed companies are aware that there are continuing professional education requirements in place and that the professionals are relying on these courses to maintain their requirements, license and certificates. The product manufacturer is a partner in the educational process and needs to be a reliable source. Commitment to produce a reliable, quality education program from top management is the first key to success.
At first glance it should be rather easy to determine if professional development and education is really supported by the firmâs leadership. The leaders from every firm that I have ever worked with say that staying in business requires that the staff is continually learning. These leaders state that they must learn just to stay current. I would agree with all of them, just by living and being exposed to new experiences â you will learn new things. Living as your learning model however does not mean that you have learned the right things or that what you learned will improve your business. And this approach to learning does not support the practice that the firm has a learning culture.
I generally divide firms into one of three categories. Most professional firms are small frequently 3- 5 persons. If a firm has less than 50 employees â which is the majority of professional firms - they are lucky be able to assign education duties to a staff member on a part time. When the firm reaches between 50 - 250 staff that part time person becomes full time somewhere at the point where the staff reaches about 100. A second staff member may be assigned full or part time when the staffing level reaches about 150 -200. Both of these firm categories are finding some relief in the growing use of online learning options that are now available.
Then there is the professional mega firm, those who have a staff of over 250. Those mega firms that are truly committed to a professional development culture will bring in a learning management expert to head the professional development department. These positions are often found under HR or marketing. Both of these firm categories are finding some relief in the growing use of online learning options that are now available.
However, regardless of the size of the firm, an education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Only by involvement of a firm partner or firm principal participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the firm. To achieve a level of delivering quality education, the firm leadership must think strategically. This means that they commitment long term, through the highs and lows of the business cycles. Continuing professional education is not free so integrating staff development into the business plan is critical. It should not be about just meeting hours to fulfill a license or credential requirement. There must be clear education goals and objectives since the firm is already investing dollars to meet the basic requirements.
Professional firms were making advancements in the development of strong internal educational programs until the down economy hit hard. With continuing professional education requirements still in place these same firms still need to maintain their requirements, license and certificates. Firms of all sizes have had to cut their internal staff those they had to support their education efforts. With strong leadership the firms do not have to cut back on quality, they just need to be smarter. Now more than ever is the time for visionary leadership and commitment to learning.
First you must look at the mission statement of the association. If education is intended to be part of the mission of the association then it should be included in the mission statement. Assuming that education is part of your association's mission then the first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program is to gain commitment and support internally, starting at the top.
To achieve any level of excellence your association will need more than just senior level support, it also needs senior management's involvement. Senior management must be involved with the creation of the association's educational direction and the education department's ongoing performance. Most important, this includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the association. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. To avoid this common mistake it is important that the head of the education department participates as an equal on the associations' steering or operations committee or council. This would mean the head of the education department would be a Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Vice President, or Senior Director depending upon the size and makeup of the association. Only by participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the association.
Like any business - and I believe an association is a business - to achieve a high level of providing quality education, the association must think strategically. This means that there is a long term commitment and a investment of time to achieving goals. There needs to be a commitment to hiring and maintaining the right staff and involving representative member volunteers, those trained and dedicated to achieving the long and short term education goals. And the leadership must find that delicate balance between education as a member benefit and a revenue source. Education is not free which even must must learn to understand. There must be a commitment to investing of dollars, but this needs to be done strategically and smartly. The most successful education programs are those that are integrated within the working foundation of the entire association.
Association leadership involvement summary includes:
• Senior association leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
• Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
• Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
• Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.
Demonstration of these elements the first steps to building a successful program.
Knowledge or Education? A Point of View of the Product Manufacturer
From the point of view of the product manufacturers most of them would argue that they offer education for their clients and/or the public. But are they?
As early as the sixties and seventies the pharmaceutical companies were providing free lunches for the physicians training times during grand rounds in the hospitals. Obviously information about their pharmaceutical products was made available. Ask the pharmaceutical sales representative (rep) and they would say that they were educating the next new group of emerging physicians.
For decades manufacturer sales representatives provided free lunches for staffs of the design professionals. During this lunch-n-learn period the reps would demonstrate their company's products or services. The savvy companies realized that sometimes it was better to send in a technical expert rather than a sales rep to deliver education, but this was the minority. Ask the manufacturer sales representative and they would say that they were educating the next new group of emerging architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, specifiers, etc.
In both situations the professionals would stick around long enough for the free lunch while politely listening to the sales rep talk about their product or service. For the professional this was considered gathering information and industry related knowledge. It wasn't until later that the professional would contact the sales representative to educated because they actually intended to use a specific product or service.
During the eighties and nineties state licensing boards and professional associations began to tighten their standards on what they believed qualified as professional education. When the professionals realized that under the right format this knowledge, delivered to them in an educational format, they could then apply that education toward the credential maintenance of their profession. Professionals always believe that their billable hours are precious to them so they began allowing only those manufactures who met the newer standards into their firms for the purpose of continuing education. Again, the leading manufacturers quickly converted their sales presentations into educational formats following the guidelines of the professional associations and state regulatory boards.
The professional should ask â is the source reliable? Does the provider meet industry standards for offering continuing education? Which organizations are monitoring them? Does the course content follow stated learning objectives and not just information statements? Will the product manufacturersâ course help the practitioner improve their practice? The manufacturer sales representatives needs to be able to answer yes to all of these questions if they want to claim that they are educating their clients and the public.
Professional firms need to clearly distinguish between what knowledge their employees need to improve the firm business and what education their employees need to meet any credential requirement.
Professional firms that have a quality professional development program think strategically. They establish a system to seek out the most up-to-date information for all of their employees, not just the professionals. Much of the information and knowledge gained is now free and/or inexpensive and increasingly web based such as podcast, webcast and online open forums, etc. Professional firms still use of mix of product manufacturer's in-house training, association's courses, mini workshops, conferences, and conventions, with an occasional mix in specialized programming. In todayâs economy, cost has become a major consideration to traditional type of programming. Major content considerations for firms - the source is reliable, it is preferably project based, innovative and cost effective.
Today, nearly all professionals are required to complete some form of mandatory continuing education (MCE) as a requirement to maintain their license to practice. From acupuncturist, medical, legal, and accounting to architects, engineers, and interior designers. While most MCE requirements allow for some type of self study and self reporting process, at some point the education to meet MCE requirements must be paid for. Generally the education must come from an external training organization. For the design/build industry, professional firms can take on this responsibly internally, reducing their cost while meeting both the needs of their employees and meeting the strategic goals of the professional firm.
Professionals from a variety of industries and professions share and exchange successful practices in the field of learning, professional development and knowledge sharing.
Learning Resources Network (LERN). We are an international association of lifelong learning professionals offering information and resources to providers of lifelong learning programs.
If you or your organization is engaged in providing any kind of lifelong learning program, LERN can provide you with practical, how-to information not available anywhere else.
LERN members and customers are engaged in a variety of programs, including:
This has become a real quandary for many associations. My observation has been that there are two very different directions that an association can take when faced with the decision of offering knowledge or education to their members. At first glance it should be easy, just look at the mission statement of the association. But dig a bit deeper and the issue becomes more complex.
Model one for an association is to offer the most up-to-date information to their members so that the members can be more knowledgeable and competitive in their profession or industry. This could be open source information that encourages the membership to stay current and use the association as a first source - reliable source. The emphasis here is on the benefit to the member. Simultaneously, the association should be providing free information to the public and related industry. Through free and/or inexpensive (to members) use of a webcast, podcast, course, workshop, conference, convention, online open forum, etc., the association should promote the values of the association and the professional services that the associationâs membership base represent. This model works best when the membership does not have any form of mandatory requirement to maintain their knowledge standards.
Model two for an association is offer education to their members so that their members can be the knowledge leaders in their industry or profession. This approach generally provides additional benefits for the members, usually when the courses, webcasts, workshops, conferences, conventions, online forums, etc, meet the associationâs credential requirements, or another professional organizationâs credential maintenance requirements, or more likely a state licensing boardâs mandatory continuing education (MCE) requirement. The downside to the associationâs members, as much as the member may expect and want it, education is not free. Someone has to pay for the development and the delivery of the education. In one form or another, these expenses are passed on to the member and even more so to the non-member and stakeholders. Strict standards are set for knowledge to be âqualifiedâ as education.
For an association the difference between knowledge and education comes down to two key questions: 1.What is the mission of the association? 2. If the association wants to provide education, how will the association cover their development and delivery expenses?