Points mean prizes: how publishers are adding value with CPD

Publishers are always looking for new ways to add value. Online revision guides, such as OUP’s PASSit product and their eLearning journals and books platforms, all developed by Semantico, are one way of doing this. A body of knowledge, embedded in flat text, with the addition of question banks and some useful online services, becomes a dynamic e-learning resource.

The value proposition of PASSit is simple: it helps you pass your professional exams, in this case for doctors. But how about after you’ve passed all your exams and you’re a fully qualified, practising professional – a physician, or lawyer, or structural engineer – is learning over for you?

Hopefully not. Most professions encourage, and in some cases require, that their members keep their knowledge updated and topped up. The usual way of tracking this activity is through some type of CPD (continuing professional development).

CPD is increasingly being seen by publishers as a potential way of adding value in the digital realm, and technology is providing new ways for them to do it.

How structured is CPD?

CPD tends to work on a points system, traditionally based on time (although best practice is now for it to be more ‘evaluative’). In order to retain their professional accreditation, professionals are expected or required to spend a certain number of hours per year on learning activities. These activities can be highly various – from attending formal courses to visiting conferences or reading relevant books and magazines – and professional journals.

Depending on the particular field of professional practice you happen to be in, the onerousness (or laxness) of CPD requirements can vary a great deal. Broadly speaking, the more potential there is for you to risk your clients’ lives and livelihoods through professional incompetence, the more structured it is (bankers, politicians and journalists, you’ll notice, don’t get involved).

CPD can be:

  • Mandatory – e.g. Medical and Legal professions – regulated by statute as well as professional codes, ‘license to operate’ model
  • Obligatory – e.g. Engineering profession (ICE) – individuals must provide development plans and documented evidence if required
  • Voluntary – e.g.  IFS, RAeS, IOP – voluntary submission, submit when applying for an upgrade

Taking advantage of digital technology, many professional associations provide CPD resources for their members. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport offers an online knowledge bank, for instance. Publishers do this too: this legal publisher offers podcasts, journals and webinars on its site. Many such portals also offer tools to help subscribers track their own CPD.

Professionals dislike being monitored, and the trend with CPD has has been increasingly for individuals to track their own. In fact the CIPD, in the UK, recommends that this should be, ‘the responsibility of the individual learner to own and manage’. However, a lot of such talk is aspirational. It is widely acknowledged that modernisation of the monitoring and compliance systems that underpin CPD have not kept pace with change.

Tracking and automating numbers-based systems is the sort of anal, left-brain job at which technology excels, of course. But the diverse nature of CPD, and the variousness of the activities that might count towards your CPD ‘score’, have up to now presented something of a challenge to the available systems and standards for tracking learning activities.

SCORM, Tin Can and Open Badges

The e-learning industry has a robust technical standard for tracking learning, called SCORM. However SCORM 1.2, the most widely used version, is a pretty dumbed-down standard – it only records course completions and test scores – that can’t cope at all with the complexities of CPD.

However a new development of SCORM, Tin Can API (also known, confusingly, as ‘Experience API’) promises to be more helpful. Version 1.0 was released in April 2013, and a few implementations have been shown at learning conferences. Beyond just completions and scores, Tin Can returns three-part ‘statements’ to something called a learning record store (LRS). These are in the form noun-verb-object – yes, they’re triples: Tin can is based on semantic technologies. For illustrative purposes only, here’s a fictionalised example of some Tin Can statements:

John | completed | Marketing Update course

John | visited | Internet World exhibition

John | read | an article in the International Journal of Brand Communications

… Straight away it will be seen that Tin Can might be useful for tracking CPD activities. And there is useful little ‘bookmarklet’ on the Tin Can site that can be use to track what a learner is reading on desktop, Kindle or a mobile device.

There is a lot more that could be said about Tin Can, but I’ll stick with this and a couple of caveats. Firstly, previous attempts to update SCORM have not achieved widespread adoption, and so far, the major LMS providers are not signing up particularly quickly. Secondly, while generating Tin Can statements is relatively easy, it seems at present that getting them into the LRS might prove more difficult and therefore expensive.

An easier-to-implement open source technology that could also be used for CPD tracking is Mozilla Open Badges. This initiative seems to be getting faster traction. However here, the downside could be branding. As an employee of Mozilla admitted to me, the name ‘Open Badges’ has a ring of the Tufty Club about it that puts some corporate people off. In professional circles this could be a big drawback: in a previous survey about CPD, one of the negatives that came back was that it was ‘like passing scout badges’.

Custom development

For publishers wishing to add value with CPD, custom development might well be the way to go. No simple, portable agreed standard currently exists for tracking CPD, and the available standards, as we have seen above, are slow in catching up with the fast-evolving needs of publishers.

We can give an example of a custom development route this with the work we have done for Oxford University Press on their OeL platform. This has been built to fulfil a wide variety of professional development (CPD), Continuing Medical Education (CME) and e-learning requirements. Where courses available through the platform are formally accredited by independent professional bodies, personalised certificates are available that can be submitted to professional societies, institutes, or specialist national governing bodies. There are added-value tools that enable users to track progress and target revision.

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