Over the course of two decades, technology has pervaded the design process, the workplace and society in general. Technology such as e-mail, video conferencing, instant
messaging and Personal Data Assistants allow us to communicate more efficiently with each other and our clients. As we expand our design practices globally, making efficient use of our time is critical. Taking time out of an already busy schedule to participate in formal classes or attend continuing education seminars is becoming more and more difficult. By using technology in an on-line learning format, we can continue our lifelong learning and keep up-to-date on the latest in technology communication.
The technology with the greatest potential to revolutionize the delivery of continuing education is the Internet. It is estimated that by the year 2006, there will be 900 million computers and other Web-based appliances in use (Charp, 2000), providing universal access, multimedia resources and interactive medium. We recognize that the Internet has
revolutionized the design process. We are now able to read about new products, download material specifications, access code information, transfer CAD drawings from manufacturer's Web sites into our own design projects, and even collaborate in "real-time" with colleagues in other time zones. The obvious move from an increased use of technology in the workplace is to increase its use in continuing education.
There are many benefits of on-line learning, such as the flexibility of time and place, and the consistent presentation of materials in multiple formats (i.e. text, audio, video). An added benefit of earning Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in an on-line environment is the use of various technology tools. To participate in class, you may need to use e-mail
and instant messaging. To submit assignments, you'll access a Web site, learn how to download and access files, and transfer files back to the Web site or via e-mail attachment. Learning how to communicate virtually will better prepare us as designers to compete and collaborate in a global market.
The combination of computers and telecommunications, the advances in fiber optic cabling and the growing affordability of sophisticated technology tools can provide enhanced course content, leading to an even broader acceptance of on-line learning. Helping to drive this acceptance is the largest growing sector of education: adults. Adult learners face responsibilities and time constraints of family and career, which limit their ability to attend lengthy training sessions. Earning your continuing education units can now be done with your schedule in mind. Known as asynchronous communication, courses have been developed that allow you to access educational material and interact whenever you wish. Asynchronous communication involves the delivery of information between you and the instructor, but not at the same time or in the same place. Media often used includes a combination of telephone, facsimile, e-mail, television, printed material,
videotapes, audiotapes, video conferencing, audio conferencing, satellite broadcasts, computer software and the Internet.
We all agree that continuing education is critical to our profession. As new
products and processes become available, we must be informed in order to make quality decisions for our clients. Many states and provinces with legislation regulating the practice of interior design require designers to take a predetermined number of CEUs for renewal. A CEU is a combination of contact hours and credit assigned to a course. Approved by the Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC) and registered through the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), a CEU can be delivered in a variety of formats. The most prevalent are traditional courses taught at colleges, universities, conferences and symposia. Self-directed learning is becoming more popular as a means to reduce the time usually spent attending a traditional course or workshop. Self-directed learning may be in the form of home study courses on CD-ROM, in hard copy or through trade publications.
The opportunity to earn CEUs at a distance is being recognized by professional organizations such as ASID, IIDA and AIA. By partnering with educational companies such as RedVector.com and QuickSchool.com, professional organizations have expanded course offerings to include hundreds of on-line courses. However, the success of this endeavor is unknown. Stacy Jennifer, from the CEU Processing Department at NCIDQ, states it processes between 12,000 to 15,000 CEUs per year. She estimates that 15 to 25 percent of all credits are in the form of self-directed learning. Because NCIDQ does not track statistics on the delivery format, it's unclear how many of those are on-line courses.
Megan Royle, managing director of education and professional development with IIDA, believes the on-line form of learning addresses the needs of IIDA members. Recognizing this paradigm shift from going outside the home or workplace to obtain continuing education to the designer's need to learn at his or her own pace has spurred IIDA into offering a large number of on-line and self-directed learning courses. Royle notes another advantage to this form of learning is the ability to fit learning into our busy
schedules by starting and stopping when necessary, something that cannot be accommodated in a live class or workshop.
If on-line learning is increasing and providing us many advantages over traditional workshops and classroom experiences, why aren't there more on-line CEU offerings? Part of the reason involves the availability of instructors who know the technology and how to teach with it. It's obvious that instructors who undertake the development and delivery of on-line CEU courses need a variety of expertise, such as in information technologies, instructional design and subject matter. As more instructors use technology to offer on-line CEU courses, the current trend suggests a further demand for this type of learning.
Another reason more classes are not available is the concern about the interchange of ideas in on-line environments. A frequent complaint by both students and instructors is the lack of interaction and the depersonalization of the learning experience. The AIA e-Classroom initiative promotes access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On-line lectures are in the form of images with audio and written information, and learning outcomes are assessed with multiple-choice tests. Likewise, the variety of on-line offerings presented through partner industries to ASID and IIDA are completed in an asynchronous format with no instructor or peer interaction. A chatroom is provided for discussions, but it's hard to have a conversation by yourself if no one else is logged on at the same time. What's missing is the collaboration.
When some form of interaction is present, whether e-mail, video conferencing or chat rooms, virtual interaction can be a benefit of on-line learning. On-line course participants can experience a higher intensity of participation than in the passive state of traditional seminar formats (Farrington, 1999). In a recent NEA survey (Abacus Associates, 2000), instructors rated their on-line courses on the same level with traditional courses for developing interactivity. Designers in on-line CEU courses may feel a loss of socialization. When we work in isolation, we have a tendency to focus only on the course material. This results in assignments that meet the course objectives, but ultimately ends
in little actual learning. Novel ways to communicate on-line are necessary to
create a sense of community or "cyberspace." In addition, networking opportunities vital to marketing yourself and your firm during traditional CEU seminars may be lost if no interaction is implemented in on-line courses.
Computers are moving away from being a substitute teacher to becoming a true tool in the learning process. In the future, technology will become more transparent or invisible in the learning process. By 2004, it's estimated that the number of people enrolled in on-line learning will increase to more than 1.5 million (Everhart, 2000). There is clearly a demand for on-line learning today. Yet not all CEUs should be taken in this format. There is a human need for interaction, which cannot be accommodated at a distance. As more instructors develop on-line CEU courses that integrate some form of human interaction, designers who participate will get the best of both worlds. By finding a
balance between on-line learning and classroom seminars, design professionals can become better educated not only in practice, but in process. Ultimately, technology should free up your time to focus on what's important—the practice of interior design.
Dr. Diane Bender, ASID, IDEC, is an assistant professor in the School of Design at Arizona State University. She is familiar with many of the related design professions both through education and practical experience in interior design, facility
management, landscape architecture and building construction. Her teaching and research focus is on the use of technology in design practice and pedagogy. Bender is a member of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), which can be contacted
at (317) 816-6261 or www.idec.org.