Demystifying the Regulation of Water and Wastewater Continuing Education

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Demystifying the Regulation of Water and Wastewater Continuing Education

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Continuing education in water and wastewater operations is important. The quality of America’s water relies on operators continuing to grow in their knowledge and skills. Regulatory guidelines, and the proper enforcement of those guidelines, establishes the integrity of the training. The fact that in the U.S. there are 50 states, each with its own process, puts the burden on the operator to ensure that any course they take is recognized by their regulatory agency and further requires that they understand the criteria to ensure the integrity of course providers.

Regardless of how courses are delivered, the regulatory process needs only to consider four basic criteria that, if met, can ensure the validity of any continuing education: in-person training, live web presentations, pre-recorded presentations, or online options. 

A program of continuing education must be able to satisfactorily answer the following four questions:

  1. How do you confirm that the materials presented are relevant to the job for which the continuing education is being earned?
  2. How do you confirm the identity of the participant?
  3. How do you ensure that the participant is provided education for the full-time duration for which credit is awarded?
  4. How do you ensure that the participant remains engaged throughout the course?

With traditional on-site training, these criteria are met and confirmed by the course provider present with the attendees and who is therefore able to verify all these criteria. Online education is a little different, but modern learning management platforms address these same issues to ensure the integrity of the credit awarded. In order:

1. The course materials can be reviewed for content the same as live courses and, in fact, it is easier because content can be reviewed online.

2. The identity of the participant can be confirmed by use of a unique login with a secure password that is set up, editable, and known only to the participant.

3. Ensuring the integrity of a full hour of participation for an hour of credit is simply a matter of controlling the environment. In other words, a Certificate of Completion should not be awarded until the full duration of training has been completed and there must be no way to fast-forward or otherwise override the time factor. (Beware that there are programs in widespread use that allow for a couple of minutes of fast-forwarding through a set of slides and then just waiting for a timer to run out to allow for earning an hour or two of credit.)

4. There are many complex mechanisms available for ensuring engagement, but we’ve found that the simplest is to have questions "pop up" on the screen at random times throughout the course that are relevant to the materials presented and require that those questions be answered within a few seconds (30-45 seconds is reasonable), confirming that the participant has been present and paying attention (and didn’t just walk away to come back when the course "times out”). 

When these criteria are met, there is no need for complicated verification or matching of certificates and rosters. Properly administered, there should be no mechanism for “earning” a certificate without meeting the criteria required. 

It remains the responsibility of the operator to ensure courses taken meet the criteria established by their state, but more important, confirming that the provider of courses meets these criteria ensures the integrity of the training.

We all need to continue to recognize that the purpose of continuing education is about gaining knowledge to ensure that our water is as good as it can and responsible, accountable, and consistent regulation is critical to the integrity of that agenda.

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