Education

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?

Evaluation and Improvement – The 7th key to quality continuing education for product manufacturers

For the product manufacturer the 7th key towards providing quality continuing education is to evaluate each course upon completion and use the results to continually improve the course. Michael D. Perry, Hon. AIA,is the Vice President Government Sales and STAMP and is currently with Simon Roofing/SR Products. Michael has been a long time advocate of holding the product manufacturer accountable to the highest standards of developing and providing continuing professional education to design professionals. In an effort to improve continuing education quality standards for the design industry Michael was the first to support the AIA Continuing Education System Award for Excellence. He was also responsible for launching the AIA/CES Firm Symposium which assisted firm leaders in the establishment of industry standards for internal professional development programs that relied heavily on support from product manufactures. According to Michael, “professional development and continuing education is all about constant improvement. The only way to measure the impact of the message you are delivering is to conduct an evaluation at the end of a program. This process is essential not only for the content of your message but also for the quality of the presentation. Without good feedback from the course attendees you will never know if the information is beneficial and if your methodology of delivering the information is leaving the audience at the altar.”

David deBear, CTC, CSI, is the National Construction Service Manager and works for Custom Building Products a product manufacturer and a long time registered continuing education provider. Under David’s leadership Custom Building Products was a multi – time winner of the AIA/CES Award for Excellence. When I recently asked David to reflect back on contributing factors to winning the award he share this story with me related to what he called a more technical related course. David stated that he received one evaluation where the participant thought the topic was relevant but that the course was confusing. David indicated that the course had been receiving mixed reviews and not consistently delivering the intended message. This one evaluation was more critical and more specific. In summary the participant stated that they could not follow the story the topic was covering and that it was confusing. With the specifics provided by this particular participant as well as comparing statements from previous evaluations, David realized that the company needed to bring in a curriculum specialist to restructure the story line. The curriculum specialist reorganized the content and to follow the story line so that it was not confusing. The curriculum specialist added a summary of key points so regardless of the knowledge level of the participant, information was received. David said that after the adjustment, participant satisfaction with the course increased dramatically.
A Product manufacturer that offers continuing education in any industry needs to build a system that continually evaluates all of their courses. Catch the evaluations immediately on-site, do not rely on the internet for feedback for on-site courses. Focus on items such as content, instructor delivery and methodology. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as a product manufacturer that offers reliable quality education.

Evaluation and Improvement – An association’s 7th key to quality continuing education

Does your association have participants evaluate each of courses upon completion? Does your association provide evaluations because it is expected? Does your association require course evaluations from each participant before certificates or credit is awarded? Does your association have a systematic approach to annual or semi-annual review of the overall education program? In order to establish a quality education program you should have answered either yes, or working on it to all of these questions. And, if your answer is yes to any of these questions, what do you do with all of that information once it is collected?

I am amazed at how many associations go through all the time and effort to provide some type of evaluation form for participants at the end of the session then do little to even collect the results. At a minimum, the collected information should be used to improve the course content, format, instruction, delivery, and promotion. It should not be used just to determine if participants liked the food, liked the instructor, and that the temperature of the room was OK.

Your association should build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses upon completion. At a minimum you should share all of the information in a detailed summary with your education advisory committee, your faculty, and your staff. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as an association that offers reliable quality education.

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

Flickr photo by azwaldo/3256080624

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.

The 6th Key for Associations: Implementation and delivery of continuing education

One advantage of working for an association or non-profit, they have access to their membership data base that stakeholder organizations and marketers often only dream about. While it may be tempting to react with education offerings because a committee or board member has a friend who knows somebody, or they have an interest in a specific topic, please try not to act too quickly. Use your database to do an education need assessment of your members and their clients before saying yes to the committee or board member. Analysis the results of the assessment then develop a plan and design the course. Or just maybe, after analysis of the data you might just say no to the committee or board member. At least the decision or justification will be based upon actual data and not just a reaction.

Once a decision is reached and a plan is drawn up, follow your action plan of implementation and delivery. Association leaders need think in terms of a process that may take 2- 3 years before expecting to see major results. Action plans should include measureable steps throughout the process. Expectations however need to be realistic so be patient and give your plan time to develop and unfold.

At the program level successful associations generally have partners in their education initiative. Keep your lines of communication straightforward and open with your partners. Share information with your partners about what the competition is doing, or about new technology delivery methods. Stay abreast of advocacy or legal issues that may impact your program implementation or delivery directly or indirectly.

There are now four generations in the workplace. Is your association shrinking because new members are not joining? Or growing as the emerging professionals begin to outnumber your long term core members? Add to the mix, diversity in our social structure. Is your association the same core membership that you have experienced for generations? Or are you witnessing a change in membership make-up who hold new points of view? And every association is dealing with a rapid change while members are struggling to accommodate advances in technology. With all of these changes, expectations encourage you to try new and different approaches to delivery. Be flexible in your program implementation. Be flexible in your conference and course delivery methods. But don’t forget to measure progress and adjustments against your plan.

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.

Photo on Flickr by Mikko Luntiala

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?€- The missing fourth key for product manufacturers.

The missing fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program for the product manufacturers and service providers includes external assistance. Product manufacturers can be effective in the developing a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Product manufacturers are rarely effective in the design and development of the actual course that they offer. If a product manufacturer was to ask, €œWhat do I want the participant of this education program to be able to do upon completion of this class? The answer would be? If your first thought was to either buy or use our product you would be among the vast majority.

I have reviewed thousands of product manufacturer course evaluations. I have listened to hundreds of professionals talk about manufacturer'€™s courses. And I have sat in on hundreds of these courses myself over a period of more than 20 years. I have just one piece of advice for the product manufacturers who are thinking of develop these courses, get out side professional help.

What the product manufacturer often does have is a reliable source of new content and potential material that could be used to offer a steady new supply of continuing education courses offerings. Instead they often teach the same one, two or three courses over and over. There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which a product manufacturer can choose. Unfortunately they are so often locked into the mainstream sales and marketing approach that requires they stand in front of their customer. While this may still be the most effective for them the rest of the world is moving on without them. And then you must ask: "Where are the learning objectives?" Remember that we are talking about education courses and they are not supposed to be direct sales pitches.

Over the years I have seen many very good product manufacturer courses. CertainTeed offers some excellent examples. They were ever a multiple winner of the AIA/CES Award for Education Excellence. And as you can guess, they used education consultants to assist in the development and design of their courses. I only ask of most product manufacturers, please do not try to do development and design education courses on your own.

“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).

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