CSI

Construction Specification Institute

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

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

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

The Chief Learning Officer (CLO) or Director of Education better be prepared when the CEO or COO asks the question, “Where is the data?” The senior leadership of the firm is business oriented and generally feels uncomfortable with gut feeling reactions. The firm’s education leaders need to develop a systematic approach for gathering both external trend data and internal staff development data. Professional development within a firm should not be limited to just making employees feel good. It is critical to the success of the firm that staff professional development be focused on the firm’s strategic goals. This means that the collection of industry market trends, client needs, and staff development information all be tied together.

Christopher Clinton a landscape architecture student at the Boston Architectural College provided a thoughtful summary in a recent LinkedIn landscape architecture professional discussion group. Christopher stated, “The first of three main techniques to help facilitate an awareness of the market in relation to the firm’s strategic plan is to explore new technologies and fresh perspectives related to the firm's strategic plan such as through attending seminars, classes, discussions with other professionals from around the world online, at trade-shows or reading articles/studies. The second is feedback and conceptual discussion of internal firm design work as well as other firms design work and concepts between professionals of related fields. Third, is to take these new concepts and have group design exercises consisting of drawings/models/etc...To incorporate what is learned in the first two parts and bring a new level of raw skills to incorporate into future work.”

For firms the intended of professional education is generally for internal use of the firm’s staff. In such situations it is important to match the assessment approach to the firms’ culture, operational structure, and short and long-term strategic goals. The content outcome could relate to technical, conceptual, and/or personnel related needs. It is important to focus on the details of professional staffs’ 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.

Product Manufacturers - First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

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.

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

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

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

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

Knowledge or Education? A Point of View of the Product Manufacturer

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 staff€™s 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 €œeducation, 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 – 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 manufacturers’ 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.

Chief Learning Officer (CLO)

Is a Virtual Tour Knowledge or Education?

Photo by Igloo Studios

Recently I was involved with a team that produced a virtual tour. The primary goal of the free virtual tour was intended to give a international audience a chance to gain knowledge by exploring the space. The depth of knowledge gained directly correlated to the participants involvement of freely selecting from varies features such as embedded videos, audio podcasts and information on building materials and products used throughout the space.
Assuming that knowledge becomes education at the point where the participant actually applies that what they learned, there is at one point in the tour a Google sketch-up feature embedded in the program that can actually be used. But what if, as most do, the participant looks at the feature but does not act. Would the knowledge still be education?
The tour can take between 1 – 1.5 hours depending on how many interactive features the participant selects. A final feature includes a quiz based upon the basic elements of the tour. The quiz follows the guidelines outlined in the standards of the International Learning Unit. It meets the organization’s credential requirement, other professional organizations education requirements, and even most state licensing board’s MCE requirements. Only by paying and successfully completing the quiz will “education” credits be awarded? Is that really the only difference between knowledge and education – fees? You be the judge - take the virtual tour, yourself. Stop before the quiz. Is it knowledge or education?

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