Most CEUs Awarded: continued (Interview with Dr. Leigha Jansen, Director of Educational Technology)
IACET: How long has continued been around?
continued: The company was founded over 20 years ago by a husband and wife team, Bill and Aimee LaCalle. Aimee was an audiologist, frustrated with the lack of available continuing education alternatives, and Bill is a serial entrepreneur. So, audiology was the first of our learning spaces. Then came speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, early childhood education, and social work. The common thread among these disciplines is they share a mandate to show proof of continuing education for licensure. Until March of 2020, in many cases, we were a supplemental source of continuing education, because people still value face-to-face learning and they value networking at conferences. Today, online continuing education is essential.
IACET: How long have you been with continued ?
continued: I came to continued 14 years ago. At the time, we had less than 20 employees; now we have over 130. Some of the growth can be attributed to the expansion of online learning, but much of it should be credited to our business model, which enables us to provide quality content to a variety of professions. We add about 100 courses each year, in each learning space. They start as webinars, then we add the recording of the webinar to our library for others to access. Learners have access to the webinars, audio recordings, and even written transcripts. This allows professionals to learn from the same subject matter experts who present at national conferences, in whatever format the students prefer.
IACET: Can you give us an idea of how many IACET CEUs continued has awarded?
continued: Let’s just say it’s in the millions. But I think the key to our success has been our ability to maintain a catalog of high-quality courses. For example, when we add a course to our library, it will stay there for no more than five years. And the managing editors in each of our learning spaces are licensed professionals in the field they manage. This way, the individuals who perform the needs analysis for our users, who contract our presenters, and who edit and maintain our libraries understand exactly what our learners want from a continuing education provider in their respected professions.
IACET: What’s the most unusual or surprising thing you have been asked to prepare courses for?
continued: One of our physical therapy courses dealt with Aqua therapy, so our instructors presented from a swimming pool and used underwater cameras to capture the experience. It was a unique approach, but necessary to demonstrate that techniques and skills required in Aqua therapy. Not only was the course well done, it provided a unique, virtual perspective.
IACET: So, why did you choose IACET?
continued: We realized we needed a benchmark of quality that would appeal broadly to many professions. Early Childhood Education, for example, is a field that already recognized IACET. Teaming with a known leader gives us credibility going into a profession as a new provider. In addition, we looked deeply into the standard itself and realized that, though we were already doing a good job, the IACET Standard would hold us to an even higher level of accountability. So, part of our motivation was the IACET benchmark of quality. But in addition, being internationally accredited is a feather in our cap when we enter new markets. The IACET Standard is agnostic, if you will. It focuses more on the process and ensures courses are founded in good instructional design.
IACET: Have you ever worked with any other accrediting bodies?
continued: Sure. Within each profession, there is usually a national accrediting Association. For instance, in audiology and speech language pathology, we work with ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the American Academy of Audiology. And in Occupational Therapy, we work with the American Occupational Therapy Association. But there are some fields, like physical therapy, where continuing education is mandated at the state level. That requires us working with licensing agencies and accrediting agencies in 50 different states. So, if you count all the state agencies, the number of accrediting agencies is well over 100.
IACET: Are there any kinds of problems that the accreditation process helps your organization avoid?
continued: A process like the IACET Standard forces you to look deeply at all of your policies and procedures to make sure that all the “t’s” are crossed and the “i’s” are dotted. That’s a level of self-reflection that you might not otherwise do. It makes you think long and hard about everything you do and why you do it. You need to be able to demonstrate the why and the how in your documentation. It minimizes our risk, too. When other agencies come to audit, they can see that we have considered everything required from both a continuing education and instructional design standpoint.
IACET: What advice would you pass along to someone considering accreditation?
continued: Be prepared to document everything, not just for the sake of the accreditation process, but because it will make you stronger. As you grow, as you bring in new team members and onboard new people to your organization, the documentation you create will help you explain exactly how your organization works. In addition, when an organization is young, everything lives in the heads of its staff. That’s a vulnerability, because you can lose a lot of institutional knowledge when someone leaves the organization. So, documentation promotes longevity and smoother succession, when the time comes.
IACET: Would you say that having gone through the accreditation process has helped you grow?
continued: I think it certainly gave us better leverage in the field of Early Childhood Education, especially with licensing boards. ECE is one of those professions where continuing education rules and regulations are set at the state level; being an IACET accredited provider certainly facilitated growth in that profession.
IACET: Do you think there's a direct benefit for the learner if an organization has gone through accreditation?
continued: Oh, absolutely. The accreditation process guarantees a consistent learning process and clearly sets expectations for the learner. There’s also a higher level of transparency for the learner, because IACET requires you to disclose certain things to the learner upfront: what you can expect to learn, the cost of the program, who the instructor will be, what work is required to earn the CEUs...
IACET: What was the hardest thing about going through the process?
continued: Well, the first time we went through the accreditation process, it was all done on paper. We had to send a 3-ring binder with all our documents printed, and I kid you not, it was it was almost 4 inches thick! And because we use an online delivery system, we had to print screenshot after screenshot after screenshot. The good news is we were one of the last providers accredited using the paper method. Now, everything has transitioned to an electronic submission process, so the forms are easier to fill out.
IACET: Do you have any funny stories you can share about your accreditation process?
continued: We have always been a virtual organization – no brick-and-mortar facilities. So, when it came time to schedule the site visit our director of CEU administration, Dr. Joanne Slater, and I both had to be present. But she lives in Denver and I live in Minneapolis. We ended up renting a hotel conference room for a day, and I used my laptop to demonstrate our program. Now, since COVID, IACET has been doing a lot of virtual site visits, and as a nonprofit, virtual site visits help keep costs down.
IACET: Why do you think learners choose your organization over other organizations who might offer similar courses?
continued: Simply put, we provide an exceptional product, both in terms of quality and value. We offer a subscription-based model. For $99 a year, learners can take all the continuing education they want.
IACET: What learning management system do you use?
continued: We’ve developed a proprietary LMS designed specifically to support continuing education. And we have a full development team who take great care of us and have built a tremendously strong product to ensure the integrity of the data and meet the needs of the learner. Initially, we had worked with John Leh, from Talented Learning. John worked us through a needs analysis and paired us with about 4-5 off-the-shelf models, but in the end, it was a better choice for us to stick with a proprietary system.
IACET: Do you offer micro credentials, like badges?
continued: Not yet. And that’s because the folks we serve need CEUs for licensure. Most state accrediting bodies aren't looking at badges yet.
IACET: Finally, what do you think training will look like in the future?
continued: Personally, my hope is that the industry moves from the CEU to competency-based learning. But, I’m betting I retire before that happens! I trust the next generation of learning professionals will succeed with that challenge.