National Continuing Education: A quick overview

In 1997, a Task Force on Continuing Education was appointed with the mandate to develop a national strategy that would meet the needs of the profession, one that would be simple, flexible and adaptable enough to be implemented across the country. Existing continuing education programs were examined as well as continuing education requirements in different jurisdictions and other professions. The members of the Task force, selected from all regions of the country, brought to the table numerous concerns, queries and insights, and reported progress to their respective provincial boards or councils. In May 1999, after a substantial amount of work, discussion and negotiation, a workable National Framework was presented and adopted in principle by a consensus of all the partners of the former National Practice Program (the ten provincial associations of architects and the RAIC). One of the major points of the framework was that provinces should adopt common standards to foster reciprocity.

An assessment made in 2001 indicated that provinces moved quickly with continuing education but chose different directions — some close and others quite remote from the framework. While a panoply of offerings was made available, meeting the differing requirements of various provinces consequently proved to be a somewhat elusive and occasionally arcane process for the mobile practitioner. How did we spawn such complexity and cacophony in spite of all the pre-established good intentions?

Let’s start with the issue of terminology. Instead of an agreed upon nomenclature for the different types of activities, there are currently a range of descriptors such as “core-competency”, “association directed”, “professional renewal” and “formal” activities, all intended to have the same basic meaning. This is even before Qubec’s “mot juste” is introduced. An equally diverse array of units is used to quantify these different terms — from western “Learning units”, to central “Points”, or eastern “Formal hours”. The value attributed to the chosen unit of learning requires a deft accounting operation to convert to a common currency. As an added complexity, the common denominator of time spent in the context of learning is not measured according to the international Quartz Standard. Indeed, one B.C. hour is not equal to one Ontario hour. Add to the equation the requirements associated with meeting international membership such as for the American institute of Architects (AIA), and the whole enterprise takes on an overbearing tone. Nevertheless, these matters of a more clerical nature are not insurmountable. Translation factors have been worked out to aid in the decryption. Adopting common terminology is perhaps the easiest to achieve with a little linguistic streamlining and a little compromise.

On a more qualitative level, there are still major stumbling blocks impeding reciprocity, making it onerous to belong to more than one provincial association. These revolve around the notion of quality control and standards. An important Task Force recommendation stated that course content evaluated and approved by one province according to pre-approved criteria should be acceptable for credit in other provinces. In practice, few courses are given reciprocity status, except for self-directed activities. An intensive code course on the Quebec’s section 3 and 10 for instance, does not qualify for professional renewal credit in Ontario. In spite of being exactly what is required to develop professionally for a member from Ontario who practices in Quebec as well, as is the case of many along border regions, continuing education becomes a double burden. We need to reexamine how it was possible to develop common admission standards for licensing architects and enabling reciprocity between provinces. Surely common continuing education standards and reciprocity are within reach.

Finally it is worth reviewing the original impetus that exposed the need for a National Framework. It emerged from an awareness of the fast moving trend in many areas to make continuing education mandatory with the prime example being the AIA program activated in 1997. The irony of our whole messy situation is that the AIA came here to examine how the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) developed their Maintenance of Competence program. The AIA proceeded to adopt many aspects of the RCPSC program to implement its own. Only the three western provinces chose to align their program in a similar manner as the AIA.

It is time to take stake of the whole situation with the ultimate goal of finding points of convergence, retaining what works well and tossing out what doesn’t. With a clearer vision about the desired outcome, namely encouraging lifelong learning rather than bureaucratic compliance, the entire profession will benefit.