Last week, I had the privilege of watching my client, Mike, give the keynote address at IACET’s annual conference as an accredited continuing education provider. For this week’s post, I originally set out to write my takeaways from the conference sessions. But I ended up thinking more about how I started working with Mike and the benefits of accreditation—as well as the process to get there. Let me take you back about seven months…
An Urgent Request
The LinkedIn message came through just after 5 pm on a Monday from someone named Mike whom I’d never heard of before. “I’m working on a project that’s due on Wednesday,” he said. “I know this is last minute, but do you have any availability tonight and/or tomorrow to help me?”
I had just logged off my computer for the day and saw the message on my phone as I answered a text from my daughter. She and her girlfriend (now fiancé) were coming over to pick up their cat, whom I’d been pet sitting. My first inclination was to say no to Mike. I was busy, and this sounded stressful. But he included in his message a link to his website, so I checked it out. His mission statement was at the top:
Wow. How could I say no to that?
Considering that my own company’s mission involves helping service-minded organizations achieve their goals, I knew right away I wanted to help Mike. After all, my company’s website begins with the words, “Are you doing good in the world? We want to help you do it better.” I wrote those words, and I mean them.
I messaged back asking if I could call in an hour or two, after the kids left. Our conversation—and his respect for putting family first—eased any concerns I had about the stress level. He assured me that last-minute requests were not his normal way of doing business.
The Project: IACET Accreditation Application
Mike needed help with an application for IACET Accreditation. In case you are unfamiliar with IACET (pronounced “eye-uh-set”), the organization is the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training, and they developed the original continuing education unit (CEU). Mike—who is a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist®, mental health speaker, and author—was looking to raise the standard for his courses and his company by seeking accreditation and offering CEUs. He had submitted the initial application, and the IACET reviewer had returned feedback about things to improve. As the resubmission deadline loomed, Mike realized he needed a learning design expert to help ensure that he was meeting the nine categories of the ANSI/IACET Standard.
After sending Stella the cat home with her mommies, I got on a Zoom call with Mike.
We went through the categories together and reviewed what he submitted for each one. After that, I worked up a list of recommendations that I sent to him at about 1:30 am. Then we were back on Zoom by 9:30 am and worked throughout the day to refine his processes and find the needed documentation.
(Full disclosure: This is not my normal work routine! I need my sleep, and I don’t usually have the “spoons” for this kind of schedule. Mike caught me on a very good week.)
We got the application resubmitted on time, but we didn’t magically achieve accreditation immediately. There were some items that I interpreted differently from the IACET reviewer, and they asked for some things that took me by surprise—including, for some reason, “evidence of accommodation of varying learning styles.” But we worked through the next round of comments together, and then (cue the angel chorus), Mike received the congratulatory message. His company had received accreditation.
I’ll tell you the same thing I told Mike that Monday evening: I am not an accreditation expert. But here’s what I’ve learned from my experience, now having helped two clients achieve IACET accreditation.
Everyone benefits from documented processes.
Even if you’re not thinking about accreditation, documenting your processes and establishing templates will help your team create high-quality training and learning experiences that are cohesive, consistent, and compliant with your organization’s styles and standards. (I say this realizing that I still have a lot of work to do in this regard for my company!)
If you don’t document it, it’s like you didn’t do it.
When I was working with federal inspectors, something I’d hear them say frequently was, “Not documented, not done.” If you can’t show evidence that you followed your process, then an accreditor has no way of knowing what you did. This is more than having the process documented; it’s also having the outputs of the process, such as an analysis report, design document, storyboards, and learner evaluations.
You don’t have to be a large organization to be accredited.
The first client I helped achieve IACET accreditation was a federal training center. They wrote more than 20 Standard Operating Procedures to document everything their various divisions do. Mike, on the other hand, is sort of a one-man show, although he has a small team to support him. His company’s processes are fairly simple and meet the needs of his organization. But they meet the ANSI/IACET Standard. And they help him create better learning experiences—which is the whole point anyway.
Following standard processes doesn’t mean you can’t adjust for project-specific constraints.
When I was working with an organization that had achieved CMMI Level 2 recognition, occasionally, something about the project requirements meant we had to skip a step or do something differently from our documented processes. In that case, we simply had to explain what we did and why. This took the form of a text document saved in the project folder where the expected documentation would be. It’s a documentation method I recommend to other organizations that are audited by an accrediting body.
Standardization is not the enemy of creativity.
Processes, templates, and style guides don’t have to be limiting. Rather than seeing things like accessibility standards, style guides, and branding templates as a hindrance, view them as providing a structure on which to build the learning experience. This gives you one less thing to worry about while you flex your creative muscles to dream up scenarios, games, or innovative interactions to teach the content.
Changing the World
Even before Mike received the wonderful news from IACET, he hired me to work with him on an ongoing basis to ensure the quality of his courses and adherence to the processes we established together. When Mike talks about his mission and his passion for helping people receive the gift of mental wellness, he often says, “We’re gonna change the world.” And I believe him.
After all, isn’t that what we do, as learning and development professionals? Let’s change the world together, one learning experience at a time!