23 ways to energize your firm's CE program

August 11, 2010

Last year, some 35,000 continuing education learning units were made available to architects and other building professionals, according to Thomas Lowther, AIA director of continuing education systems. Use this checklist, based on input from CE providers, HR directors, and AIA staff, to see how your current program measures up.

  1. Start every CE program with your learning objectives. Northern Virginia AIA chapter's Deborah Burns recommends displaying 3–4 major bullet points to outline your subject. Repeat them at the end to remind your audience what they have (or should have) learned.



  2. Determine the proper level of discussion before you start. Don't offer highly technical information to a roomful of interns, unless you happen to know they have some expertise in that area; conversely, don't bore senior-level people with a "Design 101" lecture. Know your audience before you start. Think "beginner, intermediate, advanced."



  3. Cater your presentation to participants' generation. Jack Tanis, director of applied research at office furniture maker Steelcase (a past AIA/CES winner), says CE programs have to cater to four generations: "Traditionals," "Baby Boomers," "X Gens," and "Y Gens" (aka "Millennials"). For this last group, "The Internet was their first language," says Tanis.

    Generational differences definitely figure in how people learn, the experts say. Traditionals and Boomers can usually handle a "lecture-plus-Q&A" format, but it's death on Internet-age learners, who generally prefer to work in teams, are more skillful in computer technology, and are less patient.

  4. Make sure there are handouts. Handouts "give them the tools they can take back and act on immediately," says Orange County AIA's Jill Rosoff. "They're like gold to participants."







  5. Keep your slides brief. Don't put too much text on them—3–4 short bullet points, at the most. Put additional information in the notes in your handouts.



  6. Make at least part of your presentation interactive. Get the participants doing something—taking a quiz, searching the Internet for information, sketching out ideas. In general, it's more effective to learn by doing than by just listening.



  7. Turn the CE session into a game. "Create competition," says Seattle-based A/E Mithun's Lynn Robbins. Divide the room into two teams and have them perform a task based on the learning objectives. It's good practice for the real world.



  8. Pause to reflect. Don't be afraid to have presenters take a two-minute break in the middle of a presentation to give attendees time to process the information presented to that point. The audience will come back refreshed for the rest of the presentation.



  9. Insert blank slides in your PowerPoint at appropriate moments. When you know you're going to hit a long discussion period, put the blank slide up so your audience is not distracted.



  10. Try pre- and post-session testing. Give attendees a short quiz before you get rolling; follow up with the same quiz at the end. It's a good way to determine how much they've learned—and how well your message got through.



  11. Demonstrate products, systems, and technology. One of the most highly recalled CE sessions at Mithun, says Robbins, was one where a building product expert showed how to install a self-adhered flashing on a mocked-up window. Another memorable session involved a "paint-off" among several paint manufacturers. Even better: Get the audience to participate. It's usually more effective to "show" than to tell, and more effective still to let the participants lend a hand.



  12. Use one or more case studies. People are naturally drawn to stories, and case studies have been the pedagogical method of choice at law schools. The AIA has numerous examples and teaching tools at: www.aia.org/ed_cranbrook_proceedings and www.aia.org/ed_casestudies>



  13. Start a "visiting professional" series. Bring in talent from outside your firm—university professors, experts from non-competing firms, talent from other sectors of the construction industry (i.e., for a design firm, bring in a structural engineer or a contractor).
    Mithun brings in professors from Montana State University and California Polytechnic Institute to its "Mithuniversity." The academics not only hold workshops but also conduct formal critiques of the firm's work. "It's our way of emulating the experience of the design studio," says Robbins.




  14. Try a roundtable format. Having two or three different voices plus a moderator can liven up a session and make it more memorable—and therefore a better learning experience—for attendees.



  15. Visit a supplier or vendor's shop. At the AIA/CES session, one firm spoke glowingly of taking a group of staff to a nearby factory to see how clay building products are made. Another reported a trip with a Construction Specifications Institute chapter to see how a certain product was installed; the group was then divided into teams, which competed to see how fast and accurately they could repeat the installation. Caution: Keep field trips to 2½–3 hours, so people don't lose a whole day's work.



  16. Illustrate your point through "job failures." Show how a product or system failed to work, possibly due to poor installation or inappropriate specification, says David deBear, architectural consultant with Custom Technical Products. This AIA/CES award winner says his photos of job failures are among the most memorable to audiences of professionals.



  17. Invite clients and consultants to your sessions. When Seattle's NBBJ offered staff a 12-week course on the International Building Code (which Washington state adopted early this year), the firm opened its doors to current and prospective clients, notably architects at local hospitals, said Brigitte Dillman-Cruce, professional development manager. The cost: $185 per person, including lunches and materials.



  18. Survey your staff to see what's working and what they need. Ask: Which sessions were most memorable? Which were most useful in your day-to-day work? What new sessions are needed? Today, it's fairly easy to do this via email or Internet survey.



  19. Prioritize your CE options in line with the firm's strategic direction. Firms with sophisticated CE programs require their staffs to take a certain number of learning units in line with the firms' strategic plan. At Charlotte, N.C.-based FreemanWhite (a past AIA/CES award winner), "Everything we do must relate to the strategy and goals of our firm," says HR director Jill Onley. The emphasis for the firm's 190 employees is on four areas: management, design, technical issues, and marketing.
    Staff at St. Louis-based HOK have to take 40 hours of CE, the bulk devoted to three areas: technology (CAD, Viseo, PM systems, etc.), work process (document standards, financial processes, contracts, etc.), and leadership (conflict management, presentation skills, team building, etc.), says Marsha Littell, "dean" of "HOK University."




  20. Don't ignore distance learning. Many multi-office firms are sharing learning across locations via the Internet. Commercial vendors, such as Red Vector and PACE (Professional Affordable Continuing Education), also offer online CE courses and webcasts. (BD&C is an AIA-accredited CE vendor.) Professional groups such as the Construction Specifications Institute, the NCCER, and the AIA itself offer hundreds of online programs. Building product manufacturers also offer online education; for example, CertainTeed, a three-time AIA/CES awardee, has 17 free programs, says the company's Robert T. Clark. Diane Fasching, VP of enterprise learning at CM/contractor Gilbane, used an online program to train staff in sexual harassment issues. In less than six months, all but 52 of the company's 1,570 employees (including CEO Tom Gilbane) had taken the course. "Any interpersonal skills program with a simulation format do well," she says. Online programs are especially popular with younger staff: "They just love it," she says. Distance learning currently represents less than 10% of CE offerings, the AIA estimates, but it is the fastest-growing sector of professional development. Check it out.



  21. Evaluate whether any learning "sticks" over time. It's one thing to provide CE courses; it's another to determine whether participants have learned anything that they can apply to their work. "Long-term, you have to have on-the-job performance evaluation, and that's where all the disciplines are weak," says Roger W. Liska, professor and chair of the Department of Construction Science and Management at Clemson University. Last year, HOK required staff to take six CE courses in project management; this year, says Littell, the firm will evaluate the impact of this training on project financials, errors and omissions, change orders, and other finite parameters. FreemanWhite's Onley attributes several benefits to the firm from its five-year-long CE effort: decreased turnover, reduced rate of E&Os, increased revenue growth, and greater client satisfaction, as measured by repeat business and direct feedback. "Evaluation is a very important part of our program," she says.



  22. Make CE courses a critical part of career development. At Mithun, staff must concentrate on four areas of CE—sustainability, design, project management, and technical issues (e.g., specification writing), says Robbins. Compliance with this requirement is factored into their annual review.
     




  23. Turn CE into a client benefit. Jean R. Valence, author of the guidebook Architect's Essentials of Professional Development, says attitudes are definitely shifting at many firms. "Organizations are understanding lifelong learning and professional development to be about quality and organizational health, rather than just an employee benefit," says Valence, VP and director of strategic development at Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, Cambridge, Mass. "CE is becoming "strategic in nature, and supportive and powerful in helping an organization reach its plan," she says. "It's gone from HR benefit to corporate tactic." The next step, she says, is to make CE a function that ultimately benefits clients.





 Mandatory continuing education requirements (as of August 2005)


State

Report date

HSW hours/year

Total hours/year

Distance education accepted

AIA/CES

12/31

8

18

Yes

Alabama

9/30

12

12

4 hr, not HSW

Arkansas

7/31

8

12

4 hr, not HSW

Delaware

7/31

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

Florida

2/28

16/2 years

20/2 years

Yes

Georgia

6/30

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

Hawaii

1/31

8

8

Yes

Idaho

12/31

8

8

Yes

Illinois

11/30

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

Iowa

6/30

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes, not HSW

Kansas

6/30

0

30/2 years

Yes

Kentucky

6/30

8

12

Yes

Louisiana

12/31

12

12

Yes

Maryland

9/30

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

Massachusetts

8/30

8

12

Yes

Minnesota

6/30

24/2 years

24/2 years

Yes, with exam

Mississippi

12/31

16/2 years

16/2 years

50%

Missouri

 12/31

 16/2 years

 24/2 years

 Yes

Nebraska

12/31

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

New Jersey

7/31

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

New Mexico

Renewal

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

New York

Renewal

24/3 years

36/3 years

Yes, 50% max

North Carolina

12/31

12

12

Yes

Ohio

12/31

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

Oklahoma

6/30

24/2 years

24/4 years

Yes

Oregon

6/30

8

12

Yes

Rhode Island

12/31

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

South Carolina

6/30

8

12

*

South Dakota

Renewal

20/2 years

30/2 years

Yes, with restrictions

Tennessee

Renewal

16/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

Texas

2/28 or 7/31

8 (1 hr ADA)

8

Yes, 3-hr max

Vermont

12/31

24/2 years

24/2 years

Yes

West Virginia

6/30

12

12

Yes

Wyoming

12/31

16/2 years

16/2 years

Yes

* Not finalized
Source: AIA/CES

Your Hit Parade of CE programs
The following 10 topics get high ratings and attendance, say 2005 AIA/CES award winners Deborah Burns (representing the AIA Northern Virginia chapter), Jill Rosoff (AIA Orange County chapter), and Lynn Robbins (Mithun):

1.HSW—anything that earns much-in-demand health, safety, and welfare units.

2.LEED, green building, sustainability—but make your topic specific, such as how to "sell" green technology to clients when added first costs are involved.

3.Security issues—especially in high-risk cities (e.g., Washington, D.C.)

4.Project management and delivery

5.Building codes—for example, Orange County invited local fire inspectors to discuss fire-suppression codes.

6.Audio-visual installations—how to design and construct wireless and other technical systems.

7.Technical issues, such as detailing or specification writing.

8.BIM—Mithun holds sessions on building information management with Hoffman Construction and other contractors it works with, says Robbins.

9.Business and legal issues of running a practice—"Architects don't have a lot of background in these areas," says Burns.

10.Design—usually presented by in-house experts or top designers from member firms of local chapters, says Burns.
Burns says the Northern Virginia chapter has also had good attendance at sessions for narrow-niche building types, such as laboratories and restaurants. "Even if they don't ever design these buildings, our members like to learn about them," she says.





















BD&C schedule of CE webcasts
Building Design & Construction, an accredited AIA/CES provider, offers the following webcast courses (1.5 CE units):

July 28

"Improving Indoor Environmental Quality," with Vivian Loftness, Carnegie Mellon University; Greg Franta, FAIA, ENSAR Group; and William Fisk, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Indoor Environment Department).

September 22

"BD&C's 'Giants 300' Leadership Roundtable," with top executives from among the nation's leading AEC firms.

October 6

"How to Profit from Reconstruction & Renovation," with the winning teams from BD&C's 2005 Reconstruction Awards competition.

November 3

"Green Design: How-To and What's What," with an expert faculty of LEED Accredited Professionals and sustainability gurus.

All webcasts begin at 1 pm Central.

To register, visit: www.BDCnetwork.com.




















         
 

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