A couple times a month my firm invites product reps to offer lunch and learn programs. We normally limit these programs to those that have been registered and approved by AIA by its Continuing Education System (CES) to provide learning units. We do this because all AIA members and licensed architects are required attend a certain number of hours of continuing education to continue membership or to maintain their licenses. AIA-approved courses are also accepted by other organizations as well, such as GBCI (for LEED AP’s) and CSI (for its certifications). We also limit presentations with the assumption being that because the programs have been approved by AIA, we have the opportunity to actually learn something.
This is not to say that product-specific presentations I’ve attended haven’t been educational; on occasion they definitely have. But without the CES approval, we aren’t allowed to count those towards any requirement, and so these presentations are less popular with our staff.
Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve been more conscious of trying to be skeptical of claims being made as part of CES lunch and learn courses, and also evaluating whether I feel like I’ve gotten any value (other than lunch) for my time and attention. Most CES programs have some nuggets of useful information, and I don’t feel any qualms about accepting the credit for attending. On rare occasions, like a recent example I’ll describe in a moment, a CES program is complete baloney; I refuse the credit (and maybe even leave the room – taking my lunch with me as compensation for my wasted time) and start wondering how AIA decides what qualifies for an approved CES course.
I started by reviewing the AIA CES Provider Manual Policies and Resources booklet and the Provider Manual Resources Toolkit. The key information in these documents is procedural and administrative: how to write high quality learning objectives, how to get your course approved and listed by AIA, how to register attendees, what introductory slides are required, and when you can and cannot discuss proprietary information. There is very little guidance about what the course content may or may not cover. Out of 34 pages in the “Policies and Resources” document, only one page – page 15 – talks about Health, Safety, Welfare (HSW) content (though to be fair, the “Resources Toolkit” talks more about HSW). Another few sentences provide this minimal guidelines for content:
- Course content must be unbiased, not promoting or marketing a Provider products or services. A Provider’s products or services can only be discussed once the credit portion of the Course is completed.
- Course must have a clear purpose with a minimum of four (4) stated learning objectives.
- Course should be created by qualified subject matter experts, and presented by individuals with a background in education or skilled presenters on the subject matter.
Nowhere does it require that content be true, or that claims made during presentations should be supported by evidence.
Which brings me to “Color and Design Vision 2015-2016”, a CES-approved course provided by Mohawk Group that was presented here last month.
This is the promotional copy that was sent out with the invitations.
The text reads,
Join Mohawk Group for their Color & Design Vision 2015-2016, exploring cultural themes and trends affecting design today. We will examine major shifts impacting design, including the significance of the digital era; the return to craft and creature comforts; the desire for balance and wellness; and how people are reacting to today’s social climate at home and at work. Showing how culture influences color and design direction, the course will also share insight into the process of trend visioning, and present our forecast of design trends and color palette for commercial interiors.
The learning objectives are:
- Define trend visioning as a process.
- Explain the 2015 – 2016 forecast of design trends and color palette for commercial interiors.
- State how cultural influences affect color and design direction.
- Explain how these influences drive design and development of products.
The presentation itself was just dozens of slides resembling the image above while the presenter told us why we should like them, using lots of catch phrases including biophilia claims like “humans yearn for nature,” or she referred us to the benefits of certain colors based on color therapy (something I should write about in the future).
As a specifier, the course was useless. As a skeptic, it was painful. Perhaps if I was responsible for picking colors for projects, knowing something about color trends might be useful, but there wasn’t any market data or analysis, no evidence that it wasn’t just the opinion of whoever selected the images used in the slides.
AIA does provide course evaluations forms for attendees. Most attendees don’t take the time to write thoughtful responses, probably because of fatigue (we attend lots of CES session), and because there’s no information indicated on what happens to the evaluations once they’re submitted. I did learn that evaluations become the property of the course provider, they’re never submitted to AIA at all, and the providers can do whatever they want with the feedback.
The existence of courses that useless is a potential black eye for AIA, and something they should really care about, in my opinion. I suggest the following simple additions be made to the AIA CES policies, which if followed, could improve the quality of courses:
- Course content must be supported by credible evidence, with citations. Where claims are made, whether for background information or to demonstrate the benefit or detriment of the subject matter, slides should indicate the source(s) of the data and the presenter should be prepared to hand out copies of the cited material upon request.
- AIA may at any time audit courses for content. AIA already can audit a course or provider for violation of its other rules (non-use of mandatory slides, inclusion of proprietary information). They should also audit upon notification by attendees that a course is not providing any useful information, and demand changes based on the audit.
AIA is extremely protective of its brands, and the CES program is one of its most recognized and widely-used products. It does its best to control the quality and uniformity of continuing education but the actual providers are not under its control, which can be a problem for and reflect badly on AIA when providers present substandard courses. It’s in the interest of AIA and the industry as a whole that CES programs be reliable and factual.