Streaming CEU credits

It's the 10th of December, and Ms. Francias Roberts, PE is thinking about what to get her two children for Christmas. But she can't help remembering that she is late in arranging for her professional development class requirements necessary to maintain her professional engineering license in Oregon. The state of Oregon requires professional engineers to complete 30 hours of continuing education units (CEUs) every two years to keep their licenses in good standing. There was a time when Ms. Roberts faced the prospect of spending the better part of her time leading up to Christmas in a class room, eating stale doughnuts and catching up on her class work with little enthusiasm. Hoping to find the appropriate classes locally so that she could squeeze them in between work and family obligations, she often had to go out of town to meet her requirements.

After dinner, Ms. Roberts puts the kids to bed, sits down in front of her personnel computer and logs onto the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) web site. There she finds links to a variety of course listings that meet her CEU requirements offered in interactive, on-line environments.

Ms. Roberts is taking advantage of one of the latest trends in continuing education — on-line computer based training. In a recent survey by Inside Technology Training magazine, companies that provide employee training responded that the use of "traditional" training methods (standup instruction) is in decline. Respondents indicated that almost a quarter of continuing education training is now computer based and that this percentage is increasing.

On April 12,1999, the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) Board of Direction adopted a policy statement that supports "documented continuing professional development as a condition of maintaining status as a licensed/registered Professional Engineer". Currently 16 states require continuing education units to maintain professional registration.

If your state currently does not require continuing education as a condition of maintaining registration, it will not be long before it does. One of the most convenient means of meeting these requirements is through online training.


Future courseware will include windows where students will clearly view a real instructor and be able to carry on question and answer sessions in real time.

Technology Development

As recently as a year ago, Internet based training consisted mainly of course material delivered as text and graphics. Not much more sophisticated than using a workbook to study course material. However, technological improvements have dramatically changed the way many courses are now delivered. A variety of interactive formats are now available online, with some offering direct student-student and student-instructor, real-time interaction.

Technology Limitations

Unfortunately, computer based training will never be a complete substitute for human-to-human instruction. In many training situations, such as respirator use and fit testing, training cannot be properly done without face-to-face interaction. In addition, training frequently requires incorporating company and job specific information that cannot be created for a mass market. In these situations companies must integrate computer-based training with company specific information. For example, in the case of hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER) classes, it is recommend that companies incorporate the course in company training programs by augmenting it with job or company specific information. Optimally this can be arranged by incorporating on-site training specific to the employee's fieldwork responsibilities and is generally performed as a part of site safety meetings.

Costs

Currently the cost of online courses can be quite expensive. Internet content developers are in extremely high demand and command top salaries. Anyone familiar with software development knows the difficulty of estimating the cost of developing an online product. As content development tools become more prolific and easier to use, this cost will come down. For example, in developing our company's training site we wrote the computer code in a template format designed to stream slides and audio. Using the template design we can replicate similar on-line courseware quickly and inexpensively from any video training material. This will reduce our content development costs in the future.

Today most courses are available for prices similar to the cost of traditional classes. However, the cost of delivering each training event over the Internet is very low, and development costs will come down in the future. Increased competition should also bring down the price of online courses — good news to the individuals and companies that must pay for continuing education.

The biggest savings for those requiring continuing education and who choose to take online courses will be in convenience and time. Professionals who live away from larger cities and currently have to travel to take continuing education classes will no longer spend their days in classrooms, away from productive work. Instead, one will be able to log-on, day or night, whenever time permits.

Future Trends

Technology currently limits the graphic and audio quality of courseware presented over the Internet. Current video-streaming technologies provide low-resolution video in frames smaller than a business card due to bandwidth limitations associated with most home-user modem connections. Streaming video in larger, high-resolution frames is not available for most home-users.

As broadband, high-speed connections become more available to Internet users, course materials will become (STOPPED) more interactive, incorporate multi media presentations, and include full-motion video in large frame format. Future courseware will include windows where students will clearly view a real instructor and be able to carry on question and answer sessions in real time. Courses will begin to approach the classroom experience. And for those who will miss the classroom — you can always go down to the local 7-11 and buy a couple of stale doughnuts and some bad coffee to have while on line and complete the live class room experience.

This article appeared in Environmental Protection, Volume 11, Number 9, September 2000, Page 22.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.

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