Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Mandatory Continuing Education: More Sinned against Than Sinning

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Mandatory Continuing Education: More Sinned against Than Sinning

Article excerpt

This paper examines the merits of Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE). Reasons for disagreement with this concept are discussed, and the likely impact of MCE on the field of adult education and society as a whole is explored. While not a panacea, MCE is instrumental in supporting the effective practice of professionals. It is also in keeping with the ideal of lifelong learning. The discussion acknowledges that MCE has certain flaws but suggests that the benefits far outweigh potential problems. While efforts towards refinement and improvement are necessary and should continue, there are presently inadequate grounds for rejecting the idea of MCE.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) has received increasing attention in recent years. While this concept has considerable support, the idea of mandating continuing education for professionals is disparaged by many. In professions as varied as engineering, insurance, and nursing, within the US and abroad, Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE) has been vigorously debated. Within adult education circles the issue has been no less contentious. The philosophical and practical concerns related to this issue are significant for any practitioner involved in the area of professional development. Human Resource Development (HRD) constitutes the fastest growing, most highly visible subset of the broader field of adult education and, as such, issues which arise in this area are of special interest to other members of the field. This discussion will examine some of the perspectives on both sides of the ongoing debate.

In light of the traditional social justice emphasis of adult education, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a strong egalitarian sentiment in the field. Persons with this orientation may view MCE with disdain as a means of supporting an artificial professional hierarchy. The negative perception of the professions as the source of societal inequity is, however, largely undeserved. There have been abuses of professionalization but the overwhelming benefits to society tend to eclipse these distasteful occurrences. It is inconceivable that persons in an increasingly complex world would be able to adequately take care of all their needs themselves while still having the time and resources to fully develop their own skills. The professions provide a mechanism whereby the individual has the scope to pursue avenues of self-fulfillment including the development of his/her own area of expertise while allowing others with relevant expertise to perform the functions for which he/she may be ill equipped. Whether or not one is able to see the professions as a positive force, it must be conceded that the reliance on them is an inescapable reality in modern society.

One of the obvious advantages of MCE is the potential it offers for the continual updating of professionals' skills. In today's environment characterized by rapid change, the threat of obsolescence and the attendant detriment to performance is great. Mattran (1981) argues that "since the professions are not static but dynamic, individual members of the professions cannot retain their integrity if they themselves remain static" (p. 47). The practice of mandating continued education is therefore likely to have a positive impact on professional function.

Rowden (1996) asserts that "the influence of overseas competition, new technology and the changing nature of American employees has made the effective training and retraining of American workers more critical than ever before" (p. 3). The benefits to organizations of having a workforce with current skills are easily apparent. Individuals become adept at learning through practice, such as that which may be gained through MCE, and are thus better able to foster organizational learning and organizational success.

Almost inevitably any discussion of the enhancement of organizational performance raises the specter of employee exploitation. The perception still persists that organizations tend to take unfair advantage of employees. …

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