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Meeting the Requirements for Continuing Education
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Issue 70: Meeting the Requirements for Continuing Education

By James D. Lake

When it comes to continuing education for professional engineers the requirements vary widely from state to state, Washington DC and Puerto Rico.   According to the National Society of Professional Engineers1 thirteen states as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have no continuing education requirements whatsoever.  The requirements are broken out into five categories; 1) Number of hours, 2) Renewal, 3) Pre-Approval, 4) Self-Study and 5) Special Requirements.

Number of Hours
The number of hours ranges from 8-15 hours annually. 

Renewal requirements range from annually to biennially to triennially. 

Of the thirty-seven states have some form of continuing education (CE) requirement, the overwhelming majority (33) do not have any requirements for pre-approval of continuing education programs. Only Florida, New York, Oklahoma and North Carolina have pre-approval requirements. 

When it comes to the source of the training, less than half of the states (17) permit a self-study program.  In seven of those states, the self-study is subject to restrictions such as a limit on the number of hours that can be atrtained by self-study or the need for an exam upon conclusion of the study. 

Special Requirements
One phrase that appears regularly in the matrix of requirements appears in the "special requirements" column, and that is that the educational program must be "related” or "relevant” to the profession of engineering.

To most professional engineers, this is not necessarily surprising, nor is it a source of great stress.  But with so few specific requirements, it is critical to evaluate each educational program for relevance, not just because of any mandate, but so valuable time is not wasted.  Training and education programs should be evaluated on five criteria: continuing education units, course description, learning objectives, assessment methods and instructor qualifications.

Continuing Education Units (CEUs)
The education and training industry relies heavily upon the CEU.  A CEU is equal to 10 hours of learner contact with the content of the learning activity (includes classroom, self-paced instruction, pre/post assignments, and/or homework in support of a learning outcome). But in states where pre-approval is required, there may be a different means of calculating.  It is important to verify that CEUs are coordinated with the training hours requirements in each state.  Typically, a full day of training results in less than 8 hours of learner contact with the content.  Simply because the schedule says 8am to 4pm does not mean the course provides eight hours of training.

Clear Description
Learner readiness is affected by the availability and timeliness of information prior to the learning event. Information that assists the learner may include program content, prerequisites, learning outcomes and expectations, required instructor/learner interaction, continuing learning units to be awarded, learner-required technological competence and skills, technical equipment requirements, support services, and cost and payment policies. This information should be provided to learners before they decide to attend a learning event.

Clear Learning Objectives
In order to select a relevant learning event, it is critical to note the learning objectives.  Learning objectives are statements that identify the performance the learner should be able to accomplish, the conditions under which the learner is to perform, and the criteria for acceptable performance.

Providers should avoid vague language, such as "understand,” "know,” demonstrate knowledge of,” etc. Instead, they should use specific language such as "identify,” " analyze,” or "discuss,” which can measure whether educational objectives have been met through assessment.

Assessment methods
Assessment methods demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills identified for each learning event.  How people demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes depends on the level of knowledge or skill intended. If hands-on application of a skill must be demonstrated, then some observation of demonstrated activity should occur during the learning event, with feedback from qualified reviewers or the instructor. If knowledge is the desired learning outcome, then some form of assessment demonstrating that knowledge was attained is necessary. If critical thinking or comprehensive thinking is part of the learning outcome, then some form of critical analysis or problem solving should occur during or at the end of the course. If assessments are used, but not completed until sometime after the learning event has occurred, then credit should not be awarded until the assessments have taken place.

Instructor Qualifications
It is imperative that individuals involved in the program development and delivery are qualified in their assigned roles.  This means that they are competent in the learning event content, credentialed or trained in planning or facilitating the learning event, and knowledgeable in instructional methods and learning processes.

Knowledge in the underlying subject matter alone does not qualify someone as a skilled instructor.  Some instructors are experts in some content area but lack the knowledge and skills necessary to translate that expertise into effective learning for others. Program planners rely on their own values, perceptions, and experience in making planning decisions. Accordingly, they must be prepared by virtue of their education and/or experience to plan, administer, and/or conduct and deliver learning events and programs for adults. This can be accomplished by reviewing the credentials of the persons involved in program planning and instruction.

James D. Lake is with the National Fire Sprinkler Association


  1. "CEU Requirements - Engineering," National Society of Professional Engineers, Alexandria, VA, 2012.

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