ERIC Identifier: ED376275
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Mandatory Continuing Education. ERIC Digest No. 151.
The issue of mandatory continuing education (MCE) for professionals is
controversial because at its heart are questions about the nature of professions
and of adult education. Being a professional implies commitment to continuing
one's education and the ability to pursue practice-enhancing learning. So there
would seem to be no need for mandates. However, due to advances in knowledge and
technology, as well as public demands for accountability and consumer
protection, the number of states requiring continuing education for many
professions has significantly increased in the last 10 years (Queeney and
English 1994). This Digest reviews arguments on both sides of the debate and
relates MCE to the national standards and competency movements. It describes how
continuing professional education (CPE) program developers can provide effective
learning for professionals in a mandated environment.
THE GREAT DIVIDE: MCE PROS AND CONS
The following are the
chief arguments of those opposed to MCE (Brockett and LeGrand 1992; Morrison
1992; Nelson 1988; Queeney and English 1994):
It violates adult learning principles, such as voluntary participation, the
informal nature of adult education, and adult self-direction. It promotes
uniformity by disregarding individual learning needs and styles.
By definition, professionals are supposed to be autonomous, self-managed, and
responsible for mastery of knowledge; MCE is punitive to those who participate
Evidence that it results in improved practice is lacking. All that is mandated
is attendance, which will not necessarily change attitudes, motivation,
determination to practice responsibly, or ability to learn.
Programs are not consistently and uniformly available. Many lack quality and
relevance to practitioner needs. MCE may encourage providers to focus on profit.
Requiring participation may hinder learning by reducing motivation and
Professionals should be accountable for effective performance, not
Proponents support MCE for the following reasons (Brockett and LeGrand 1992;
Little 1993; Nelson 1988; Queeney and English 1994; Queeney, Smutz, and Shuman
Expecting voluntary participation is unrealistic. Those who need it most may be
least likely to participate.
There is some evidence that well-designed programs can influence effective
MCE can provide equal access to a range of opportunities.
Mandates are necessary to protect the public from incompetent or out-of-date
Although imperfect, it is better than such alternatives as examination or
By choosing a profession, professionals submit to its norms. A license to
practice implies consent to be governed by the rules of the profession.
Although some studies have found negative attitudes among those required to
participate, Queeney, Smutz, and Shuman (1990) suggest that MCE participants may
judge their participation more thoughtfully and critically because it is
required; they expect high quality and applicability and become more astute
consumers of learning opportunities.
Some feel that the mandatory debate is a dead issue (Brockett and LeGrand
1992; Nelson 1988; Queeney and English 1994). Rather than arguing about whether
professional continuing education should be mandatory, the focus should be on
improving the content and delivery of CPE. However, the "content of CPE courses
is often based on precedent or what the providers think is worthwhile, rather
than any systematic analysis of what constitutes competent current practice of
the profession" (Hager and Gonczi 1991, p. 24). Some consider competency-based
standards the solution.
COMPETENCE, STANDARDS, AND MCE
movements are well under way in vocational education and some professions in
Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Competency-based certification
and licensure are also a growing part of MCE (Queeney and English 1994).
However, educational providers, legislators, and professional associations
disagree about what competence means and what is the nature of expertise. A
competent professional has the attributes--knowledge, skills, abilities
(KSAs)--necessary for performing a job to appropriate standards (Hager and
Gonczi 1991). Competence includes such aptitudes as interpersonal skills,
motivation, and professional judgment (Cervero et al. 1990); it also involves
values, beliefs, and attitudes (Nelson 1988). To Davison (1994), competence is
what a person is able to do, but the larger issue is what he or she is willing
to do; that is, will they use acquired KSAs in the practice setting? The role of
CPE is to bridge the gap between professionals' knowing how to and knowing to
(Davison 1994; Nelson 1988).
Competency-based standards for professionals are nearly as controversial as
MCE, because a mechanical approach that tries to break down professional
performance into discrete tasks or skills ignores such higher-level aspects as
critical reflection and professional judgment. Hager and Gonczi (1991) propose
an integrated approach that identifies the KSAs displayed in the context of
realistic professional tasks. The resulting standards would enable professionals
to assess their own levels of competence and choose continuing education
Another flaw in the competence approach is the assumption that performance is
individual. Cervero et al. (1990) identify other influences upon performance:
the relationship of the professional with peers, subordinates, superiors, and
clients; the multiple cultures to which individual practitioners belong; and the
relationship of the professional to society (the cultural context of practice).
Thus, although continuing education (mandatory or not) may be a factor in
improving competence, it is difficult to separate the effects of participation
from those of other influences on practice (Queeney and English 1994).
Rather than debating the mandatory issue or
arguing whether competency standards are appropriate for professionals, "a
preferable alternative might be to focus on alleviating the problems associated
with continuing professional education as a tool for improving professional
practice" (Queeney and English 1994, p. 16). Some of the problems are as follows
(Cervero et al. 1990): multiplicity of providers; lack of standards; and
dissention about who should pay, who should determine the level and frequency of
participation, and what type of activity should count as continuing education.
Effective CPE should be accessible, affordable, and of high standards. It is
difficult to balance quality considerations with the need to keep costs
reasonable, serve large numbers, and address continual updating needs in many
specializations. Collaboration among providers is recommended. CPE should be
relevant to individual learning needs, applicable to practice, and designed for
different learning styles. Professionals in organizational settings should
receive support for transferring learning to practice, and interstate mobility
of MCE credentials should be established.
CPE should be rooted in and viewed as an extension of professional education.
Competence evolves over time, and effective learning is a long-term, cumulative,
integrated process (Cervero et al. 1990; Queeney and English 1994). CPE should
be viewed as part of the lifelong learning continuum, and development of a
mindset toward continuing education should begin prior to practice. This
requires a systematic approach to developing a strategic lifelong learning
agenda that is holistic (taking into account the multiple cultural influences on
practice). Currently rare, educational counseling services for professionals are
CPE should link practitioner competence to the ideals of public service and
accountability by (1) stressing the value judgments and ethical considerations
in practice, (2) developing competence and expertise in conjunction with
understanding of the human purposes of professional service, and (3) promoting
cooperation, interdependence, and collaboration as additional ways to improve
competence (Cervero et al. 1990).
Nelson (1988) warns that MCE should not be oversold as a solution.
Associations for professions in which continuing education is mandatory should
promote the values of CPE to their members while acknowledging to the public the
limitations and difficulties of certifying competence and of documenting MCE's
effects on practice.
A most important factor in overcoming objections to mandated education is
consideration of the professional as an adult learner. Program design and
delivery should emphasize consultation and cooperation, not coercion (Nelson
1988). Professionals can be given broad latitude in the selection and design of
their individual learning programs (Brockett and LeGrand 1992), especially if
standards against which to compare them have been established. Cervero et al.
(1990) give the following description of professionals as learners:
"professionals construct an understanding of current situations of practice
using a repertoire of practical knowledge acquired primarily through experience
in prior 'real life' situations" (p. 178). CPE must foster both practical
knowledge or know-how as well as critical reflection.
Although in some professions MCE has become the norm, its mandatory nature
should not be the focus. "One answer to the mandatory continuing education
conundrum may be not the mandatory or voluntary nature of continuing education,
but the transformation of professionals into motivated seekers of education"
(Queeney and English 1994, p. 4).
Brockett, R. G., and LeGrand, B. F. "Part Five:
Should Continuing Education Be Mandatory?" NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND
CONTINUING EDUCATION no. 54 (Summer 1992): 85-103. (EJ 449 593)
Cervero, R. M. et al. VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL
EDUCATION. Athens: Georgia Center for Continuing Education, University of
Davison, T. "Competency-Based Training & Competency-Based Assessment."
Paper presented at the Queensland (Australia) Training Officer Society
Conference, May 1994.
Hager, P., and Gonczi, A. "Competency-Based Standards: A Boon for Continuing
Professional Education?" STUDIES IN CONTINUING EDUCATION 13, no. 1 (1991):
24-40. (EJ 440 649)
Little, C. D. "Mandatory Continuing Education." JOURNAL OF CONTINUING
EDUCATION IN THE HEALTH PROFESSIONS 13, no. 2 (1993): 159-167. (EJ 466 410)
Morrison, A. A. "Resisting Compulsory Continuing Professional Education."
AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF ADULT AND COMMUNITY EDUCATION 32, no. 3 (November 1992):
146-150. (EJ 458 745)
Nelson, J. W. "Design and Delivery of Programs under Mandatory Continuing
Professional Education." STUDIES IN CONTINUING EDUCATION 10, no. 2 (1988):
81-103. (EJ 384 843)
Queeney, D. S., and English, J. K. MANDATORY CONTINUING EDUCATION: A STATUS
REPORT. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education,
Center on Education and Training for Employment, The Ohio State University,
Queeney, D. S.; Smutz, W. D.; and Shuman, S. B. "Mandatory Continuing
Professional Education." CONTINUING HIGHER EDUCATION REVIEW 54, no. 1 (Winter
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