Accreditation Guarantees Quality Continuing Ed

Consulting firms and their employees need quality continuing education. With today's rapidly changing technology, those responsible for the design of modern facilities are faced with constantly changing codes and standards, revised statutes, and new and innovative methods and products. Few consultants and engineers would deny that continual learning is necessary for them to provide state of the...

By George W. Farrell, P.E., George W. Farrell and Associates, Cary, Ill. April 1, 2003

Consulting firms and their employees need quality continuing education. With today’s rapidly changing technology, those responsible for the design of modern facilities are faced with constantly changing codes and standards, revised statutes, and new and innovative methods and products.

Few consultants and engineers would deny that continual learning is necessary for them to provide state of the art professional services. And increasingly, governing bodies are requiring many types of professionals—not only engineers, but also architects, medical personnel and others—to earn continuing education unit (CEU) credits to maintain registration.

The problem is identifying which courses have real value. Firms and their employees are bombarded with advertisements for continuing education programs. Some of these courses may require an enrollment fee; others may be offered at no cost.

In a sense, even the latter are not really free of charge. The cost of an engineer’s time and energy must always be considered. If a continuing education course is offered during working hours, can lost production be justified?

But the greater concern is ensuring that continuing education training will meet the needs of individuals and their firms. Many of these “courses” are no more than thinly disguised vendors’ sales pitches. Some basic questions to ask are: Will the program meet the needs of the firm or employee? Will it provide the professional with the CEU necessary to maintain registration? And if an engineer relocates, will the CEU be accepted in the new jurisdiction?

One positive development is that many universities and community colleges now have continuing education departments that offer high-quality programs. Not only are these CEU credit hours certified; they’re also transferable.

Another major force working to guarantee the quality of CEU programs is the International Association for Continuing Education and Training. Located in Washington, D.C., IACET is a nonprofit association that was founded in 1968 as the result of a conference sponsored by the National University Extension Assn., the U.S. Bureau of Education (now the U.S. Department of Education) and other organizations and agencies concerned with the needs of licensing and certification. The initial task force that grew out of this conference included representatives from many organizations that were already providing continuing education but were concerned about the lack of standards.

A number of universities and colleges have also sought and attained IACET authorization for their CEUs. This is in addition to accreditation by their own governing bodies.

However, IACET’s primary concern is certifying continuing education programs and training that are outside the realm of higher education. Its mission is to ensure that continuing education programs meet the standards required by professional licensing and certification bodies in all the various jurisdictions.

For their part, the CEU providers gain recognition by following the association’s criteria and guidelines to develop curricula. And they earn the right to display the IACET logo.

In fact, it was IACET that coined and defined the term continuing education unit. One CEU is awarded for satisfactory completion of “10 contact hours of participation in an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction and qualified instruction.”

To date, there are more than 650 authorized CEU providers covering a wide range of disciplines. Even though IACET has developed a strict set of guidelines, the criteria are modified as necessary to meet the specific needs of a profession.

The certification process includes peer review by a certified provider commission and a site visit to ensure compliance with the criteria. Providers are recertified at least every five years, and only authorized providers may use the IACET and CEU logos.

There are 10 overall criteria that IACET uses to evaluate CEUs. The following five are most important to the professional’s learning process:

  • Identified needs. Each learning event—either program or course—is planned in response to the identified needs of a targeted audience. Needs identification is fundamental to the process of developing learning events. For the consulting engineer, it often originates with changes in codes or standards. Also, learning about new procedures and equipment is a crucial continuing education goal.

  • Clearly stated and publicized learning outcomes. In order for the learner to determine if the program will meet his or her needs, there must be clear and concise written statements of intended learning outcomes, based on the identified needs of course attendees. Learning outcomes should be clearly stated in all publicity for the event. Potential attendees must know in advance what they will learn.

  • Well-qualified personnel are used to plan, develop and conduct each learning event. A true application engineer may meet the requirements, while a salesman may or may not.

  • Content and instructional methods are appropriate for the learning outcomes of each event. This criteria is self-explanatory.

  • Participants know in advance the methods used to assess their satisfactory completion of the event. Procedures established during event planning are used to assess achievement of the learning outcomes. In some cases, simple attendance and participation may meet the needs; in other cases, testing or hands-on application may be required.

  • Participants must evaluate the learning experience. Following each learning event, participants evaluate the event, and the provider uses these evaluations to assess the effectiveness of the event and modify it as necessary for continued improvement. This is the real key to quality continuing education. IACET places great emphasis on learners rating each experience, and on providers evaluating the responses and revising programs on a constant basis.

Those seeking continuing education or training can realize many benefits by using IACET-authorized providers: a quality education with clearly identified goals; CEUs that are transferable and universally accepted by the various states; and permanent record maintenance so that proof of education may be readily obtained.

Moreover, firms seeking continuing education for their employees are assured uniform standards and assessment of satisfactory completion. But just as important, it is easier for firms to select among the many programs being offered, because IACET has done the work of evaluating providers for them.

Continuing education providers also receive many benefits from IACET certification. First, the process of becoming authorized helps them to organize and improve their training. Second, their programs are evaluated by education experts. And finally, certification gains credibility with peers and customers and improves chances that programs will be in demand.

When choosing a CEU, it’s good to look for the IACET seal of approval. For more information about IACET, a complete list of authorized providers and an explanation of the criteria, visit the web site at .

Author Information
Mr. Farrell was a co-author of “Protecting Electrical Systems,” a long-running series in CSE. He has been actively involved with IACET since 1993, first as chairman of the education committee for an authorized provider and currently as a site visitor. The site visit is the final step in becoming an authorized CEU provider.