6 Ways To Save Your AIA CE Course From Total Embarrassment

Posted On: 
Jan 8, 2020
AIA Course Tips

It’s the dawn of 2020 and an exciting time for building product manufacturers to get their products specified. The industry is advancing via BIM, drones, robotics, and other exciting technological enhancements. Yet, many manufacturers are using AIA courses that look like they were created in the Stone Age. Avoid losing face and take the plunge to revise your antediluvian AIA course.

An AIA Course should be to the point, educational, not necessarily entertaining but definitely not boring, and participants should walk away knowing the benefits of your product and how they can solve their problems. The best free AIA online courses and AIA lunch and learns stay in designer’s minds months later. Many AIA courses tend to be watered-down, thinly veiled sales presentations that drag on and on and ultimately disappear from the architect’s mind quickly.

Having helped develop education courses for design professionals for nearly twenty years, there are several red flags to review when evaluating AIA courses. Several common issues still plague AIA courses as of 2020. We will review common mistakes that product manufacturers and offer recommendations to improve their courses. You want design professionals to remember your product and how it can help them, not a bad CE course beleaguered with embarrassing flaws.

AIA Course Problems

There are a host of problems that can handicap an AIA course. We will mainly focus our attention on online courses but also offer a few recommendations for AIA lunch and learns. The problems can be broken down into AIA course requirements, course format and graphics, and missed opportunities.

AIA Course Requirements

Per the AIA Standards For Continuing Education Programs published in October 2018 (most current guide as of January 2020), members of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) are required to complete a minimum number of eighteen (18) hours of continuing education annually. Twelve of the hours must be Health Safety Welfare (HSW) CE hours. This education is often delivered to architects via online AIA courses, AIA lunch and learns, and AIA webinars.

We won’t dive into the nitty-gritty of the requirements, suffice to say building product manufacturers should focus on three concerns: generic versus proprietary, time requirement, and reporting credits. Any one of these issues can land you in hot water with an AEC firm and possibly the AIA itself.

Problem One: Generic AIA Course Versus Proprietary Used Cars Salesman Pitch

An easy way to get busted by the AIA and piss off a ton of architects is to deliver a proprietary Powerpoint presentation like a used car salesman trying to move the last car off the lot by midnight. Don’t do it! The AIA has disciplined AIA education providers in the past who have broken this cardinal rule by pulling their providership for a year. Imagine you have 50 product reps in the field delivering presentations every day and the next day you get a call from AIA National telling you that your entire sales and marketing force can’t deliver a lunch and learn for a year. It’s a real bummer!

The AIA stipulates that presentations, handouts, videos, and other resources for the AIA presentation must be generic. The presentation can’t include marketing materials, endorse specific products, or contain false or misleading information. Basically, you need to deliver a generic presentation that discusses your product technology in general terms without naming your brands. For example, an ACME brick presentation could discuss CMU specification and installation practices, the differences between split face and smooth face block, but not identify product names or include logos, brands, etc. in the presentation.

Problem Two: Complying With AIA Time Requirements

The AIA has been cracking down on online AIA courses that don’t meet the mandatory time limits. An online AIA course must be at least 50 minutes in length. This can include a recorded Powerpoint presentation and downloadable reading materials. The running time must hit 50 minutes. Ten minutes of the sixty-minute presentation can be dedicated to the online exam which must be 10 questions.

Video AIA courses are the best method to meet the mandatory running time of 50 minutes. As we discussed in a previous blog How Your Outdated AIA Course is Affecting Your Brand, video is the preferred method for architects to meet their online course requirements in addition to live webinars. PDFs are a poor choice for the primary learning format. Designers don’t want to spend an hour reading a white paper when they can take an online course with video, narration, music, and effects.


Problem Three: Meeting AIA HSW Requirements

Building product manufacturers should always aim to develop an HSW AIA course. In fact, there’s no reason to not develop an AIA HSW course. AIA members must take 12 HSW CE units annually. There are ample opportunities for manufacturers to capitalize off this and promote their product technology. Architects are more likely to take a course if it’s an HSW course as opposed to a general hour course.

To qualify for HSW credit, the course must directly support health, safety, and welfare. How does your product address occupant safety, well-being, the environment, social interaction, etc. To qualify for HSW credit, 75 percent of a learning program content and instructional time must be about the HSW topics. The majority of building products should be able to meet these requirements although there are always a few that might not conform. Meet the HSW requirements and increase your specification opportunities via online education and lunch and learns!

Problem Four: AIA Course Format

We’ve already noted that PDF read only courses are frowned on by design professionals. A large AEC education provider delivers hundreds of PDF read only courses and HTML5 read only courses that fail to take advantage of video, narration, and cutting-edge tools. Manufacturers are decreasing their marketing and engagement opportunities using these antiquated formats.

In addition, AIA courses should be in the modern 16:9 format, not the old 4:3 square format. As of early 2020, I am still seeing 4:3 square presentations in the marketplace. This is mind boggling and makes me realize these companies need help! They may manufacture a great product, have excellent staff out in the field supporting the product and company, but lack the expertise and skillset to create a modern and engaging AIA course. Bottom line, for online courses make sure it’s in the 16:9 format and preferably a narrated Powerpoint with video clips.

Problem Five: Graphics and Professional Photography

A well-written and conceived Powerpoint presentation can be quickly undone by poor graphics and photography. We’ve all seen dreadful presentations with stock images from 1987 and photographs that look like they were taken in a poorly lit cave. Professional photography, high resolution stock images, and high-quality media are all a must to develop an excellent AIA course.

Often, marketing appeals to perception over reality. It is difficult to alter a designer’s mind. Marketing to specifiers can slowly build a favorable opinion over time about your product but once a perception about a building product is in their mind, it can be difficult to change. If your AIA presentation is filled with low resolution images, blurry photos, and shaky video clips, the design professional may think your product is low quality as well.

These are easy solutions to this problem. Here’s a video with helpful tips on how to integrate video and high quality photos into your presentation. Bottom-line, don’t use garbage photography or graphics or your specification opportunities will decrease.

Problem Six: Missed Opportunities

Often times, a product manufacturer will work very hard on creating a great presentation but overlook opportunities that may benefit their specification chances. One of the biggest missed opportunities is not creating and registering the course for multiple credentials and organizations. Many product manufacturers may only register their course with the AIA and not even think about LEED APs, interior designers, engineers, and other professionals.

LEED v4 is the most popular green building rating system in the country. Most AIA courses can easily meet the requirements for GBCI to award LEED APs their mandatory CE hours for their credential. If your AIA course discusses LEED, Health Product Declarations (HPDs), or other sustainable topics, it can probably easily meet these requirements.

Another missed opportunity is not partnering up with trade organizations applicable to your industry, subject matter experts, and industry leaders to develop and deliver AIA content. Many AIA chapters and USGBC chapters will provide assistance to manufacturers needing a subject matter expert to feature in their presentation such as a video interview. Networking with industry leaders in your field and getting their expertise can also help strengthen an AIA course.

We have outlined 6 ways to avoid embarrassment, humiliation, and utter contempt when developing and delivering AIA presentations. There are several other tips and strategies we discuss in the Spec Shaman blogs and we welcome your input.

For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please contact Brad Blank