Side-effects: The Often Overlooked Benefits and Necessities of a Good CE Program
Continuing education is a critical pursuit for many professionals. Anyone who needs to maintain certification or a license understands this well. What is often overlooked is that continuing education provides benefits beyond staying current on the latest protocols, techniques, laws, regulatory requirements, best practices, etc. In addition to exposure to new information, ongoing learning helps participants hone necessary skills such as prioritization, planning, problem solving, organizational skills, and critical thinking. It can also serve to motivate participants by sparking new, or rekindling old, interests. Although not the primary reason why professionals seek continuing education, these unexpected CE benefits serve professionals well in every industry and may, for some professionals, provide an important edge in a tough job market.
But what about the benefits that participants expect, even though they may not think about them in the context of CE?
One of the things we’ve noticed in our years of doing business with professional associations is that they really do listen to member feedback. But what about the things members don’t tell them? Associations must not only respond to member feedback, they must also fulfill expectations that members don’t verbalize, because members take it for granted that some things will be taken care of in the normal course of delivering member benefits. When it comes to CE, these expectations include the ability to easily browse online courses, purchase courses securely and seamlessly, interact with a website that runs smoothly, and access customer service should an issue arise.
A smooth running website and more
The Internet may be in its infancy, relatively speaking, but it has been around long enough and has seen enough use to establish a powerful set of standards and expectations for performance. And online performance means more than how fast your pages load (although that’s important). Today’s Internet user expects ease of navigation, links that work, and web pages that have a professional look and feel. Website users, especially professionals, can spot a sub-par website a mile away and they will not invest time in a website that makes it difficult for them to find what they need.
Browsing content, buying online
It is the same when it comes to purchasing goods and services online; users expect a certain level of performance. LL Bean, Overstock.com and other successful retailers have set the online purchase bar high. They make it easy for consumers to fill their shopping cart, plug in a credit card, and hit the “buy” button, essentially creating the standard that all online retailers must follow. This includes organizations offering online continuing education. The minute you sell and deliver courses online, your customers expect a certain level of performance.
A voice on the other end of the phone, a timely reply to an email
Users are also accustomed to a certain level of support from the organizations that provide goods and services online. This is especially true for professional associations, since they were founded to provide member benefits and support. Even the most accomplished professionals can run into issues online. Sometimes it’s an actual technical glitch and sometimes it’s just something they haven’t encountered before. In any case, there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to accomplish what you set out to do online… so good end-user support is a must when you offer CE, CLE, CME, or CPE online.
The bottom line? There are some very important “side-effects” of online continuing education for both the professionals who participate in CE and the organizations that deliver it. Most of which are positive, if we pay attention to them. The unrequested “necessities” of a good CE offering--great service, an easy to navigate and use website, etc.--are just as important as the things that CE participants ask for. And, the unexpected benefits of continuing education—critical thinking, problem solving, organizational skills--can make a big, and positive, difference for CE participants.