Pitfalls of Tracking and Processing Continuing Education
If you are tracking CPE or CE for yourself or a group of members, there are many methods to use and requirements that must be followed to ensure each professional receives credit for education and proof of attendance. The following is a checklist of elements needed to avoid the pitfalls of the enormous task of tracking and processing continuing education.
Finding the Right Accredited Course
You can do live events or online seminars and webinars; the options are endless. I prefer live events for the networking and interaction they provide. If spending days and hours in front of a computer is not for you, consider live events. This is a great way to build bridges with other professionals. You could even plan to attend with a friend and share the travel expense or commute together. If cost isn’t everything, you can consider splurging and blend a trip with a vacation. Some courses have morning sessions, allowing attendees to spend the afternoon at exotic locations.
When attending continuing education live events, be sure to avoid events that use paper systems for speaker review and course surveys. Every time we use paper, we must think about storage, accessibility and even delivery. I like the use of software or apps that allow me to store information electronically, such as the class notes, syllabus, PowerPoints and the certificate of completion. This ensures that I have easy and reliable access to the information, allowing me to review the materials later, and manage the delivery to the governing organization like NASBA or IRS.
Online events are continuing to gain popularity. If cost is important, you can even find free courses. You will also save on the travel. Check with software vendors and groups that provide a great variety of sessions. I recommend a blend of online webinars and live conferences to get the best education and experience available. It’s not just about getting the credits, it is ultimately about building your expertise as a professional.
When looking for a course you should connect with your local society, national training organization and educational groups. Be sure you find a speaker that keeps subject matter interesting. Nothing is worse than being bored for hours. If a speaker is not for you, find another organization. I recommend getting a referral from a colleague and even reviewing some video of the speaker if possible.
The options are endless, which means there is a course which is suited to each of us.
Tracking Continuing Education With Little Effort
So, now you have completed a course and must track which courses you attended, record the credit hours or units you accrued, collect documentation and manage certificate delivery. It’s just too much work. Thus, the advent of software systems, databases and apps.
If you are not using a digital system, you will have to clean out an old file cabinet. That exemplifies how keeping a paper trail is so antiquated. And honestly, manual tracking will cost you time and resources. While using manual systems and files is entirely possible, it simply is not practical. Manual systems are at best problematic and cumbersome. Duplication is a necessity in case something happens to your copies, as well as the printer, paper and space for the file cabinet. Why use manual systems when there are so many better options for digitization?
Going a step beyond manual tracking, there are things like using Excel or a database to log course info and hours. If you do this, be sure you have good backups. And remember, you still need to store the PDF certificates and other associated course materials. This will typically end up in folders on your computer. The pitfall to this is that these systems are usually isolated and not well-connected to other information. In a day where integration is key, these systems fall short by having limited information and storing them in a variety of places.
Many organizations have developed online tracking for their members with the ability to store certificates. This can be a real time saver by simplifying continuing education management and detail tracking. One of the problems with this is that for every course, you must let the organization know and deliver all the documentation. In some cases, you can log in and simply add what you need yourself. Make sure you have complete update ability. The real things missing from this scenario are course details, videos and notes. It also lacks an automated way to get the information into a database. However, I believe these sites are a real step in the right direction.
One of the best things I have seen for complete tracking is a mobile event app with database software. These are critical to live events, if the system can connect to organizational databases and the CPE / CE data is available once sessions are completed. These systems provide a place where course materials, session notes and videos can be accessed, and credits can be accrued, reviewed and stored. The best conference apps will even deliver the certificate of completion to the attendee. In many cases, apps fall short by hosting all the data in your phone and not connecting to any other source, or its website program is standalone. This can be overcome with added platforms like Zapier or custom programming to truly connect all your data so it is far more useful. When you find the right app and the connection to a member organization’s database or other program, you get the complete integrated solution.
Even though the apps and databases can be costly, you begin to see an incredible ROI when you connect the dots and automate. In many cases, the workload on the team doing all the manual file production and storage is greatly reduced. Paper and printing costs come into play as an area of savings.
Worry-Free CPE/ CE Certificate Issuance
Worry-free certificate issuance really does exist! As an organization, managing the mounds of certificates can be overwhelming. Managing continuing education seems easy, but it takes a dedicated approach to succeed. Depending on your organization, regulations can require the issuing organization to keep these for 3-5 years. If you lose yours, you should be able to go back to the issuer and get another copy. I have seen where this hasn’t been handled well, and this can create a horrible situation when the issuer has gone out of business. This is one reason to consider using State or National Societies that are not likely to disappear.
Other required documentation like surveys, questionnaires and signup sheets must be retained by the issuer. Certificates must have the correct language, area of study and meet all regulatory requirements. Be sure to know what these are when dealing with a new vendor for CPE / CE.
Each organization will not only have costs of storing, but also mailing each certificate. The labor to do this is enormous. As I mentioned, digitizing this on a website or using a connected app will streamline all of this. Pick an organization that will simplify this for the professional. Organizations which automate the process of certificate issuance should be prioritized when picking which meeting, event or conference to attend.
Acceptable proof, documentation and storage
Remember that the certificate is not all you need. You will need to show the who, what and where of the sessions you attended. You will need to keep paper or digital proof. Be sure you have duplicate copies and keep them for the specified time your certified organization requires.
The enormous responsibility in tracking and processing continuing education demands solutions, practices, and knowledge to make sure each professional is never in doubt about their certifications. Any mistake can lead to loss of time, resource, money and even their business if pitfalls are not avoided and prudence is embraced when dealing with continuing education for the professional. Check out educational tools that can help.