Guidelines when considering continuing education courses.

General comment.
There are numerous courses or educational programmes available on‐line with very variable quality
and possibly not acceptable for accrediting CPD points on the NZIMLS CPD programme. It is
strongly advised therefore, that before embarking on any course that a check is made with
the CPD coordinator that the course qualifies for CPD points and the level of points that
may be awarded. The purpose of the ‘guidelines’ is to provide NZIMLS members criteria to assess
and consider whether a particular course or programme is worth considering for either career or
personal development. The intention is not to recommend any of the numerous on‐line learning
courses being offered both nationally and internationally but to help in making a decision whether
a course truly has benefit especially for CPD and career development.


Knowledge improvement.
Why is the course being taken? Is it to improve knowledge and/or skills in the workplace or
is it for general interest? If it is for the workplace does the course actually improve your
knowledge and skills or is it more like a revision course in a particular specialty? Seriously
consider the benefit of any course for knowledge improvement and skills. A question should
be is this course for professional development or for interest only?

Source of a course or programme.
This is very important as there is a very wide range of on‐line courses many of variable
quality. Is the course from a reputable institution e.g. University or Polytechnic. There are a
number of private agencies with courses linked to a university especially in the UK and a
certain amount in Australia. These should be credible courses. Always do a search on the
organization or institution offering the courses. Some of these are just money making
schemes. Ask a colleague for advice.

Undergraduate or Post‐graduate?
This could be important depending on the intention of why a person is taking the course.
Although it may seem obvious, undergraduate courses are essentially intended for people
with no qualifications or possibly without a degree or studying for a first degree or an
alternative qualification. For an experienced scientist or technician the undergraduate
course may be interesting but not particularly challenging and may have a reasonable
proportion of known or existing knowledge as its content. The post‐graduate courses are as
the name implies at a higher standard and it would be expected that these courses would
introduce new knowledge and skills and could be challenging.

Is there a curriculum or syllabus.
It is surprising how many on‐line courses do not have a curriculum or syllabus for their
programmes. This should always be looked for or the organization contacted for one.

Always avoid the courses that have no detail and the course that have a number of people
indicating that “this course has changed my life” but no information even if it looks like the
best course ever. A number of these courses are very poor quality and often money making
schemes. If a course is any good it will have a curriculum or a good course outline.

Method of learning.
There are many ways an on‐line course can be delivered so it is important to understand the
method(s) of course delivery before enrolling. If it is an overseas course, is there a
requirement to all be on‐line at the same time or can it be delivered at any time? Are there
on‐line ‘discussion groups’ and are these part of the course or just to facilitate course
interaction? This type of group interaction may be the way the course administrators deliver
information etc so it is important to be clear about this. Two terms often used in presenting
course learning are summative and formative. Summative assessment is where the learning
is assessed during or at the end of the course usually by examination and compared against
a standard or benchmark and would provide a mark or grade. Formative is where the
learning process is monitored and feedback provided during the course, this can often be
self or peer assessment but often there will be no mark or grade associated with this
assessment.


How is the course delivered and assessed.
Clearly on‐line courses are delivered away from the centre or organization providing the
course. Look at their web‐site and try and judge their organisations capacity for course
delivery. Do they deliver the course themselves or do they use an agency for delivery?
Check‐out the agency if they do. Do not take for granted that it is highly successful. Always
confirm what the requirements are for undertaking the course e.g. computer capacity,
delivery on both Macintosh or PC, any special software etc. The software issue is important
as the course may require some software from the institution and there may be a cost in
accessing it. In addition, would it be compatible with the Operating System of your
computer? It is essential for clarity of how the course or parts of the course are assessed
e.g. on‐line questions at the end of modules, on‐line essays etc. Be wary of courses that
require no assessment at all. It is also important to know what you will get at the end of the
course, a certificate (usually electronic) should be expected. If there is no certificate (or
similar) where is the proof for completing the course successfully?

Quality of teaching material.
Will any teaching material be provided with the course? If so is there an additional cost to
access this material, which will often be provided on‐line. Is the material ‘locked’ i.e. it can
be used on‐line but cannot be down loaded or printed? Are there any textbooks associated
with the course and do the course organisers offer to sell them. Seemingly good book offers
may not be the latest edition and will certainly incur shipping costs. Check book seller websites
such as Book Depository etc for pricing (and free shipping). Some courses will have
their own textbooks but maybe only available as ‘locked on‐line’ or as e‐books. These will
incur a cost. If it is possible get someone knowledgeable with the discipline to look over
what is being offered as teaching and reference material.

Quality of instructors and availability.
Probably all courses will advertise they are using top experts in their ‘field’ and many do
have that sort of access to experts. If they are associated with a teaching or research
institution these can be checked via the institution web‐sites. Look for what they teach,
research activities and publications. If they are truly ‘experts’ they will be delivering in at
least two of those areas. If not then simply Google them and see what can be found. Never
take the word of the organization for who will be teaching the course always check. You
need to know if and when the teachers will be available for questions and possible direction
about the course. Will they be available or will they have someone e.g. a post‐graduate
student to answer questions? If only electronic communications are used then the turnaround
time for enquiries is important.

Library and literature requirements.
Check if any access to a science or medical library will be required before enrolling on a
course. It may be possible to gain access to a University or Polytechnic library as a ‘Guest’
for the duration of the course. If scientific or medical articles are required it is possible to
access these via inter‐library loan from public libraries but there will be a charge for the
article. Many Journals now have open access after approximately six month following
publication so articles can be downloaded for free from these journals. The NZIMLS web‐site
has some information on accessing relevant information. Be cautious about buying articles
from Journals as these are often expensive and can be as much as $NZ100 for a single
article.

Security.
Any external course carries the risk of viruses or mal‐ware, therefore it is important that
work computers should not be used for any external course. Ensure that your own
computer has adequate protection before enrolling for a course and be careful about
sharing course teaching material with others. Most reputable education organisations are
very careful about unsolicited attacks but it is always possible.

Course Projects or research orientated projects.
If a course has a practical component i.e. work undertaken by the candidate as a
requirement for the course, ensure that written permission has been given from the
appropriate person if laboratory resources are being used including ethics approval is
patient data is being used. Be careful about how much data is shared with others on‐line.
Check with the course supervisor what happens to the projects at completion of the course.
If the project has significant findings seek local advice about what should be released for the
project and what should not be included. If the project is suitable for publication then
submit it to a journal prior to submitting the project for assessment. This ensures that your
data is under your name. If there is possibility of a patent then seek expert advice. Patent
laws vary around the world but a general ‘rule of thumb’ is that once a discovery/novel
approach has been published it cannot be patented. The USA has different patent
requirements so advice from the USA may not be applicable to the rest of the world. In the
laboratory work book where project or research data is being recorded, date and sign each
page, this is proof of your work if there is ever a dispute on the results and in particular
patents.

Feedback on the course.
Always check the course for options on course feedback. Any decent course will have a
mechanism for course feedback. This may be on‐going during the course or a course
feedback or evaluation at the end. If there is no option for course feedback be cautious
about the course.

Achievement.
Always check whether there is a certificate or electronic badge on successful completion of
the course. An email from a the course supervisor stating “Great result – well done” is not
appropriate for the course fees that have been paid. Also the old adage “in the post” is not
acceptable with on‐line courses. Good, reputable courses will provide evidence of successful
course completion. Certain on‐line courses may offer the course for free but require
payment for a certificate or that a candidate needed to enroll and pay for the certificated
course. These conditions need to be checked before enrolling for any course. Prior to
enrolling verify whether a course is a crediting or non‐crediting course as the latter probably
will not have an certification.

New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA).
Courses in New Zealand may have an NZQA Level ranking and these are usually from
Universities or Polytechs. Information relating to the NZQA Level system can be found on
the NZQA web‐site (www.nzqa.govt.nz)

New Zealand related courses.
There are a wide range of courses offered in New Zealand suitable for professional
development and it is recommended that these should be checked first. One excellent
source are the Summer Schools offered by the Universities covering a wide range of
subjects.