7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Online Continuing Education Provider
by Ann Johnson
Nurses and many other healthcare professionals are required to stay current in their field by taking continuing education courses (CEU). With the growing number of online CE providers, how can a busy professional choose a trusted-and, more importantly, accredited online provider? How will you know whether an online course meets your own needs as well as complies with your state's requirements?
Before making your choice, check out these commonly asked questions and get expert advice on continuing education provider must-haves:
1) Why should I take an online CEU course in the first place?
The most common answer is: Because you'll save time and get immediate results!
If your license renewal date is just around the corner-even tomorrow!-then your best bet to meet your deadline is taking an online course. Online courses are accessible 24/7 on any device, anywhere there's an Internet connection. A certificate of completion is typically provided instantly online or via email.
2) Aren't there better options than online courses?
CEU courses are available in other formats, such as live seminars or printed booklets delivered by mail. Personal preference, accessibility, cost, and time constraints are common factors that healthcare professionals use when deciding what type of course to take.
But most of the other options have some real drawbacks. Live seminars are not cheap. To attend, you may have to take time off work or even travel overnight. Not every employer will pay for your time away, and lodging costs can add up. Then there’s the strain of being away from your family.
In today's world, taking courses from printed booklets and mailing in test papers often seems outdated. Busy professionals can save—on postage, time, and even wasted paper—by reading courses online and receiving instant, electronic certificates. And there are no trips to the post office or waiting days for results to arrive in the mail.
(Of course, those who prefer to read a printed course can simply print out an attractive copy from many online providers' websites.)
3) How do I know whether an online provider's courses will be accepted by my state board?
This is a highly important question when selecting a CE provider. Different professions have different accrediting bodies, and not all online courses are approved in all states. That's why you should always check a provider's accreditation or approval for your profession and state. This will protect you from spending time and money taking a course, only to find out after the fact that it’s not accredited for your license type or state—which could even lead to a lapse in your license.
Accreditation information should be easily located on a CE provider's website. For instance, look for the official seal of the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) if you’re a nurse and similar organizations for occupational therapy, physical therapy, case management, and EMS.
If you can't find a CE provider’s accreditation, be sure to contact the provider prior to taking a course.
4) Can I look at a course before deciding—and paying—to take it?
Online CEU providers differ in how freely they allow access to their course materials. Many providers require you to sign up for an account, pay a yearly membership fee, or pay for an individual course before letting you look at all their courses. Other online providers offer unlimited access to their courses without an upfront payment, allowing professionals to read a course—and sometimes even complete it and pass a test—before deciding whether they'd like to "buy".
It's important to be comfortable with your decision to purchase on online CE course. In some ways, it’s a matter of risk and uncertainty.
Some questions you might ask include: Would I like to see a course, or even complete it, before paying for it? Am I ready to make an ongoing commitment to using a particular provider? Do I want to sign up for an account and provide my personal information at the beginning or end of the process?
5) What if I decide not to complete a course once I’ve already begun to take it?
Not all CEU courses will end up meeting your needs. Maybe the content isn’t turning out to be what you expected or needed. Maybe it’s too technical—or too simple—for your particular level of practice and experience. And maybe the course simply isn’t as well organized or clearly presented as you’d hoped. After all, who hasn’t had the experience of taking a class that ended up falling short of expectations or even feeling like a waste of time?
Then there are those times when your own life’s uncertainties and demands won’t allow you to finish a course.
That's why it's important to understand an online CE provider's policies. For providers who require an upfront payment, do they offer a refund if you don't finish the course or successfully pass a post-test? Or does the provider require payment only at the end of the process?
6) Is the post-test "open book"? And what do I do if I don't pass?
This can be a critical question if you’re concerned about successfully completing a course, since many online CE providers include a post-test to help you know whether you’ve understood the information provided in the course. But will you have only one try to pass a test in order to earn your certificate? And what if you’ve already paid but didn't pass on your first attempt?
Different providers handle this individually. Those who apply adult-learning principles won't restrict your access to the course material as you complete the test questions. Similarly, some CE providers allow unlimited tries (and time) to obtain a passing score. You should be able to review the test questions you may have missed. After all, the point of the post-test is enhance your learning experience and to support your success.
And don't forget to keep an eye out for which providers require payment only after you pass the post-test.
Online courses are accessible 24/7 on any device, anywhere there's an Internet connection.
7) What "proof" will I receive to verify I completed the course? And will my course completion be reported to my state board, agency, CE Broker, etc.?
It's likely that your state requires you to document the successful completion of your continuing education. But reporting requirements for states and professions vary. Some require reporting of all courses, others only for a specific course, and yet others have no reporting requirements at all. That’s why it's important to be sure your CE provider will help you meet your own reporting requirements. For instance...
Will you receive a certificate of completion, and when? Some CE providers automatically email you a certificate. And if you sign up for an account, they will also save a record of all the courses you take with them. You should be sure your certificate includes the name of the course you took, the date you took it, the hours you earned, and whether the course and provider are properly accredited by your state or profession.
Will your course completion be reported automatically if your state or profession requires it? Some online providers are tied in to states' reporting systems, and other providers are not. Some will report automatically with 24 hours, while others may take weeks. After all your hard work in completing a course, you need to feel confident that your success will be reported quickly—especially if you are up against a deadline to renew your license!
Whether you are new to taking only continuing education or have taken courses online for years, be sure to ask these questions about any provider you are thinking of using. Finding the right online CE course for you will make the process smooth and ensure your success in meeting your requirements and mandates in order to renew your license.
If you’d like to consider whether Wild Iris Medical Education is the right provider for you, try out a free online CEU course now and earn 1 contact hour!
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