Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are nothing more than fool’s gold.
Yes, that’s right. It’s just like Pyrite with a metallic yellow hue luster that attracts us. We think it’s gold…but it’s not!
CEUs or continuing education credits are often mistaken for the primary reason why attendees go to conferences. While important, they are no longer the main attraction.
CEUs Have Been Commoditized
Since CEUs are public domain, there are no mandated guidelines for instruction or learning activities. And there’s a preponderance of information and online education programs available today for people to receive CEUs or credit — from reading an article after passing a short quiz (as is the case with the monthly CMP Series in Convene), to listening to a podcast, attending a webinar, or participating in a self-paced online course. CEUs have been commoditized.
Then there is the issue of price. The average cost of one course hour is all over the board. From my independent research, some organizations charge $50–$85 per hour of instruction but the average for trade associations with multiple hours of education and tradeshow revenue to supplement runs in the $20–$30 range.
Online CEU options are often offered for as little $5 per course hour — or even free of charge. In fact, MIT is offering free education online to anyone who wants to take advantage of its program. Participants can’t earn a degree, but those who demonstrate a mastery of the subject taught will receive an official certificate of completion (convn.org/MIT-free).
These alternatives to receiving credits via conference attendance drive down the value of premium face-to-face education. Conference organizers that market CEUs or education credits as their main value proposition are not going to be able to maintain registration prices. The CEU becomes nothing more than fool’s gold.
CEU Reality Check
Since no government or private agency is charged with setting and enforcing mandatory credentialing standards, the good news is that any organization is free to develop credentialing programs when, how, and for whom they want. The bad news is that it is incredibly confusing for everyone, since the terminology is applied inconsistently.
Another challenge with continuing education programs is that there is not one set of industry standards to guide program development and administration. There is a myriad of self-appointed organizations, including ANSI, CLEAR, and IACET — each claiming to be the official standard for credentialing. They all require membership as well as ongoing evaluation, regular site visits, maintenance of credentialing records, and ongoing annual fees to distribute their trademarked credentialing requirements.
ASAE’s Decision to Learn research indicated that the higher the level of education a person has, the less likely s/he is to pursue certification. In other words, the more educated the attendee, the less likely s/he wants to attend conferences to obtain CEUs.
Similarly, this study found that it’s those individuals who are self-employed who are more likely to be certified or seek certification. Professionals in the public sector or from corporations do not feel the same need to attend conference education in order to receive CEUs.
When CEUs Repel And Attract
I have yet to find an organization whose own research has proven that CEU acquisition is a major conference draw. In reality, I’ve seen the opposite. Often the ratio of participants actually involved in pursuing certification is less than 10 percent. And sometimes the focus on CEU detracts from the overall quality of the program — instead of offering content that solves attendees’ problems, conference organizers settle on education that simply fulfills certification requirements. When a conference marketing campaign makes gaining CEUs the main takeaway, it may even turn off prospective attendees. Instead, the conference marketing should hype the fact that solutions are being offered — not certification credits!
CEUs do become “golden handcuffs” when a government agency has mandatory requirements for a profession to receive annual CEUs in order to maintain a licensure. But that’s the only time that the CEU may be a magnet for attendees — and even then, there are numerous free-to-low-cost options available that don’t require additional travel expenses or premium registration fees.
Want more info?
- The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education provides a basic understanding of CME.
Why do you think conference organizers and marketers put so much emphasis of CEUs? Why don’t CEUs attract most registrants for a education meeting?
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2012.