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Helping Professionals Stay Ahead Of The Curve: The Role Of Continuing Education

Non-credit, CEU courses provided by extension units help professionals stay on top of their jobs and ahead of their industries. Photo by Loozrboy.

The major challenge for continuing educators in the 21st Century is to try and keep up with the constant flow of new research and discovery that is so much an integral part of today’s most dynamic professions. And every profession demands of its certified or licensed workforce that it maintain the standards that their accrediting bodies, their managers and their patients/clientele/customers deserve. And they should!

Whether it is called facilitating ‘research to practice’ or ‘best practices’ or ensuring that professionals meet and exceed current industry standards, students attending continuing education (CEU) workshops at accredited colleges and universities, as well as their employers who may be footing their educational bills, expect no less from their CEU providers.

So, it remains incumbent on those who design and provide courses, workshops, and certificate programs to make sure that they continue to develop the most cutting-edge, research-informed, and up-to-date offerings and then deliver them with committed instructors who bring their knowledge, along with a passion for teaching, to the classroom (online or face-to-face). Along with that challenge, there is the growing need (and expectation) that courses are delivered using the most current teaching modalities and blended learning strategies (classroom-based, web-enhanced, and fully online).

While some fields of study might be less dynamic and changeable than others, the demand to stay current cuts across most disciplines and related professions and might lead continuing educators to consistently ask questions like these:

  • What do research developments in neurobiology tell an addiction counselor about the impact of drugs and alcohol on the brain and behavior during and after recovery?
  • What new computer design tools do architects and interior designers need to know to deliver the best product?
  • What data collection methods and approaches to quantitative analysis need to be taught for information professionals to stay current, employable, and ahead of the curve?
  • Why do managers need to know about ‘Agile Management’ and other current management strategies to be the most effective movers and shakers in their organizations?
  • How can bioscientists and bioengineers keep up with the breathtaking pace of the field’s own discoveries?
  • What will the development of DSM 5 mean to every practicing mental health professional in the country?
  • What will the Affordable Care Act and ‘translational medicine’ discoveries mean to new models of health care delivery?
  • What will Green Chemistry and other Sustainability approaches mean to the environment over time?

This brief article explores some the efforts needed for continuing educators to remain at the forefront of training and education in their fields and constantly work to expose their students to the most current research and evidence-based practices available in their professions.

First, it is impossible to stay abreast of the widening range of subjects most continuing educators are responsible for. Most need to consult regularly with campus faculty, advisory committee members, and others in their field to solicit and vet ideas for new courses, curricula, etc. Some of the most common ways to ‘scan the environment’ in any one discipline might include:

  • Reading selectively in relevant journals/articles/abstracts
  • Attending discipline-specific meetings/conferences (in person or online through listserves, etc.)
  • Talking to instructors and maintaining an active network of contacts within a profession
  • Drawing suggestions/ideas from adult student evaluations
  • Assessing the need to respond to new innovative practices in a particular field
  • Keeping abreast of updated or new government or industry regulations

In my particular discipline (behavioral health), I was able to develop a series of award-winning workshops at UC Berkeley Extension (2012 UPCEA Outstanding Non-Credit Program) that allowed licensed clinicians in the San Francisco Bay Area to focus their 36 hours of mandatory continuing education (required for re-licensure in California every two years) on specific populations (children/youth, elderly), presenting problems (loss/grief, anxiety/mood disorders), and emerging approaches to treating trauma and eating and weight disorders. Or, just to stay current in neuropsychology.

These CEU workshops draw primarily on the wealth of practicing clinicians/researchers in the SF Bay Area to do the teaching. UC Berkeley and UCSF faculty also teach as well on occasion. The major requirement is that workshops offered teach clinical skills useful in a variety of settings, based on available ‘best practice’ research, and aimed at improving the quality of services. Thus, the major objective of non-credit coursework becomes ‘client- or patient-centered’ and updates practitioners on the skills needed to continue to deliver better services.

While learning outcomes are formally evaluated for every student in every class at most adult education institutions, the extra steps needed to assess the ‘impact’ of non-credit workshops on the quality of work at participants’ agency/business/organization*, while a key indicator of success, is rarely measured due to significant time and resource constraints. Despite this gap in a CEU provider’s knowledge of the ‘real’ impact of a training program (which should extend beyond the impact on a participant’s career), the need to maintain the highest standards of non-credit workshop content (and delivery) in all fields and sectors of the economy remains a critical test for continuing education.



*see Weisner, Stan, “Applying a Transfer of Learning Model to Continuing Education”, Continuing Higher Education Review, Vol. 69, Fall, 2005, pp. 111-124.