I am a strong advocate of studying other industries. If we look only at case examples from within our own field, we limit our horizons and run the risk of never fully actualizing our programs, products, and services. (See the September/October 1997 column, page 98, "Valuing Brand Identity.")
Three factors militate against our programs achieving their full potential:
1. In contrast to the clients we serve who receive targeted professional training, most continuing professional education (CPE) staff do not have academic training in the core areas of the business: adult learning theory, instructional design, meeting management,, finance and administration, and research.
2. Many CPE providers toil in "functional silos" within their organizations--that is, they are not fully integrated into the fabric of their parent institution.
3. Many providers have never worked in any other CPE organization.
As a result, CPE organizations and activities are often homegrown and inward-looking. Even a strong organization will benefit from looking beyond its own borders into the larger worlds of education and business.
One Size Doesn't Fit All One of the lessons learned from observing other industries is that the same product can be customized for different customers. The overarching objectives may be the same, but variations to meet specific budgets and objectives are possible. For example, an airline's first-class and coach passengers have the same overall objective: getting safely from point A to point B. Paying a higher fare won't get the first-class passenger there any sooner, but it will change virtually every other aspect of the experience: separate check-in lines, earlier boarding, better seats and food, and better amenities.
This type of product segmentation occurs in virtually every industry--except CPE. As providers we tend not to differentiate our activities. No first class versus coach. No fast food vs. gourmet. Let's explore how CPE might differentiate its core product--high quality, relevant education--by making a brief detour into the worlds of philosophy and psychology.
Freud, Existential Philosophy, and CPE I have long argued that CPE is first a state of mind and then a state of action. But I daresay no one has yet mentioned Freudian psychology, existential philosophy, and CPE in the same breath--until now! But I believe they do connect, and the result has led me to a new classification model for CPE.
After researching hundreds of CPE program offerings and leading dozens of focus groups, I kept coming back to two fundamental concepts--one from existential philosophy, the other from Freudian psychology. Existentialists argue that something can be essential, yet not sufficient. Freudians argue that we are driven by two dominant forces: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. From these two notions, a concept of CPE emerged.
My conclusion, after testing the classification scheme with CPE prospects and customers, as well as with colleagues in the CPE business, is that CPE should be divided--programmatically and operationally--into two distinct forms: Chore and Choice. Chore CPE enables participants to comply with certification and other requirements. Particicipants in Chore CPE are there because they must be. It is baseline education to do the job effectively.
Choice CPE, on the other hand, compels participation because it stimulates and excites.
Next time, I will give a detailed description of the Chore and Choice categories, providing the distinct attributes inherent in each, and suggest a saturation model for effectively developing and marketing CPE programs using this classification scheme.
Is looking to Freud going too far afield? Remember--marketing takes place not on a computer screen, bulletin board, billboard, or brochure, but between the ears, in the theater of the mind.