Certification

Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on A/E/C/ firms

Continuing Professional Development Conference

Today many A/E/C/ firms have established professional development programs. These were created to address the continuing professional development (CPD) of their staff, certification programs and state licensure Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE) requirements. A few progressive firms extend their programs to their clients and peers through cooperative programs with associations and universities.

For decades there were only a few firms that encouraged professional development or had organized mentoring programs for their staff, but those firms were the exception and not the rule. In 1995 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) implemented MCE requirements of their members. Within ten years most state licensing boards began requiring MCE for licensure for registered architects, engineers, interior designers, and landscape architects. The number of industry related certification programs, such as those offered by AWI,IFMA,ICBO,NFSA,NKBA,and LEED also expanded during this period. Professional development began to take on a new importance.

What was lacking during the 1990’s, role models of how the A/E/C firms should adjust to the changing CPD environment? No longer is that the situation for A/E firms. One solution from 1997 - 2008 – the AIA Continuing Education System (CES) Award for Excellence program The AIA/CES award program not only recognized firms for their commitment to internal CPD, the award program also provided a roadmap for all firms to achieve professional development success. The AIA/CES award program was a blend of the Malcolm Baldrige award and education standards established by International Association for Continuing Education ( IACET). The AIA/CES award criteria involved a detailed review of the firm’s education strategy, planning and analysis, design, implementation, delivery, evaluation and the improvement process of their professional development programs.

At first only large firms had the resources to build these types of programs. Large firm award winners included NBBJ; HOK; FreemanWhite; Rosser International; Gresham, Smith and Partners; Einhorn Yaffee Prescott; Mithun; Cannon Design; and Lord Aeck & Sargent. During the last several years of the award some mid-sized firms such as Rogers Krajnak Architects, Inc and Marshall Craft Associates, Inc. also met the standards and won the award. Turner Construction was the first to achieve the honors for creation of their online education efforts following the standards of the International Learning Unit (ILU).

Now added into the mix are a few online certificate or certification programs such as those found on UGotClass that are developed by associations, colleges and A/E firms. Don’t forget the free online management courses from leading universities such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and other colleges. While the Boston Architectural College offers an online Sustainable Design degree, RedVector delivers sustainable design courses created by University of Tennessee faculty for professional in the A/E/C industry. What’s coming? Look for A/E firms to offer online professional practice education using their own adjunct college faculty’s to reach out their clients globally, 24/7.

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.

Use of the International Learning Unit (ILU) at WVA

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The International Learning Unit (ILU) is an excellent standard to use as a measurement for learning. It has proven to be extremely well suited for online education. While at the American Institute of Architects we used the ILU as the baseline of measurement of learning for the online education that we offered. We found that it was more useful, flexible, accurate, and defendable when we wanted our continuing education credits to apply for mandatory continuing education credits for the architect’s licenses.

Sherry Kuehn, is the Senior Program Coordinator at West Virginia University (WVU). Sherry works in the office of Continuing and Professional Education (C&PE), a Division of WVU Extended Learning. Sherry shared with me that WVU adopted the ILU into their Forensics Program in 2008. She stresses that it works particularly well for that program as forensic professionals do not have a standard, mandated requirement to take continuing education classes in order to continue working in their field – no matter the specialization. Sherry stated that the entire WVU forensic program is completely online which to date includes 25 courses. These courses utilize a pre- and post-test as well as discussion boards, quizzes, and interactive projects to assist students in learning the material. Sherry stated that the instructors of the forensic courses assign the ILU value based on the criteria set forth by the Learning Resource Network (LERN) which is 50 content items = 1.0 ILU. Every activity within each course is set at an 80% mastery level before the student can proceed to the next unit or module. In the past year, the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) has approved this training and the use of the ILU for mastery of content. Sherry added that while the ABC won’t print its endorsement on any publications at this time, this is not necessarily specific to just ILUs.

The International Learning Unit (ILU) holds new relevancy in the age of the Internet

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As almost everyone who works in the field of continuing education, professional development or organizational development knows - the continuing education unit (CEU) was the model for measurement most frequently used during the 20th century. This time based model worked well in the industrial age. Unfortunately the CEU model hasn’t changed, nor has it kept up to date while our global cultures have changed. So what can improve, update or replace the CEU? The International Learning Unit (ILU) developed in the 21st century to address the changing needs of continuing and professional education in the age of the Internet.

According to Wikipedia the “International Learning Unit (ILU)” is an outcome based measurement of learning designed for lifelong learning activities. The ILU is a competency based approach to measuring learning education courses. The ILU is an alternative measurement and standard to the time based measured courses. The ILU measurement can be used to provide evidence of completion of continuing education requirements mandated by certification bodies, professional societies, or governmental licensing boards.

The ILU was designed for the needs of the 21st century. Instead of recording seat time in class the ILU measures the knowledge and skills of the participants. The ILU adopts well to web based education that has begun to warp, change, and reshape time as it relates to learning. Unfortunately all of the rules and laws are currently written measuring the professionals success in time spent at the event. Does this still make sense in your continuing education or certification program to measure seat time – when there might not even be a seat used? Isn’t it time to adapt the International Learning Unit?

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?

Closing the Loop: Evaluation and Improvement – the 7th key to quality continuing education

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You are almost finished – but not yet. You have completed the assessment and followed through with your planning. You designed the curriculum and developed the course content. You developed your marketing plan and promoted the course(s). You finished up on the delivery of the course(s), so now what? You don’t just want a good program you want an outstanding program, built upon high quality course content and delivery. To do this you included an evaluation and feedback process. You build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses upon completion along with an operational work flow process for each year. Set up a system that will evaluate each course, service or product against (Key 3) measurable short and long-term educational goals with performance projections. Most of all don’t let this valuable information collect dust. I have watched too many organizations evaluate each of their courses because it was expected or required, and then do nothing with the information they collected. Share all of the information, in a summary and detail where appropriate with your education committee members, your faculty, and your staff. Use the information you collect to continually improve program and courses, to build upon your reputation as a quality organization, and to become more profitable.

“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.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

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The question I always heard from superiors and peers, “Where’s the data?” 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 organization’s staff education then it is important to match the model to the organization’s 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 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.

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 customer’s needs; verifies effective performance; and provides guidance into the evaluation process.

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