Sunday, May 24, 2020

Will the COVID-19 situation finally convince the MA LMHC board to update guidelines for online CEUs?

Since I became licensed in 2005, the policy of the Massachusetts Board of Allied Mental Health and Human Services Professionals has always been that no more than 50% of LMHC CEUs can be earned "on line or via home study." (Interestingly, this is stated in various documents of theirs such as this one, but the actual law regulating the continuing education requirements, 262 CMR 7.00, doesn't specify anything about online vs. in-person.)

When I was first licensed, the only type of online education available was largely text-based and did not generally occur in real time. Most people were using dialup internet at this time. Streaming media existed, but wasn't something most people's home setups could handle. College courses taught online from about 1995-2010 or so were generally something like a text-based discussion forum with papers submitted by e-mail or upload. There were maybe a few pre-recorded YouTube videos of lectures if the instructor was savvy. Similarly, the only "online" professional continuing education available at the time they made this regulation was the type (still widely in use today) in which the learner reads through some array of articles or slides, maybe a few short video clips, then takes a multiple-choice quiz, with no interaction with the instructor at any point. There were also home study courses that could be purchased that were similar –– read some stuff, take a quiz, get some credits.

For the past five years or so, I have been thinking the "no more than 50% online" regulation seemed a bit outdated. So many organizations are now offering trainings and conferences online using interactive Zoom sessions limited to a classroom-sized group. Actually, if we want to get into whether interaction is a necessary component of a training worthy of credits, a number of conferences I've attended do give one CEU for attending a keynote speech with hundreds of people present and no discussion or interaction. How is that any different from watching a video at home?

We should also be considering that best practices in the field mean we have plenty of providers of all different socioeconomic backgrounds and those living with disabilities, among other folks who make our field look more like the folks we serve. Many of the people we should be encouraging to work in our field are more comfortable with courses that can be taken at home, as these are generally less expensive and are often much more accessible to people with psychiatric or other disabilities who may have a hard time with travel and/or being in a conference setting all day.

This year, a number of well-established conferences that typically meet in person (thus usually awarding what would be considered in-person CEUs by the licensing board) have moved their conferences online. Sessions are taking place over Zoom or similar. Attendees are able to have discussions with presenters and break into small groups to do activities, just like at in-person conferences.

Based on what is still listed on the licensing board web site, these conferences will no longer count as in-person CEUs, despite being the same conference as the one that usually occurs in person, and despite having a similar level of face-to-face interaction. Many conferences for early 2021 have already made the decision to cancel the in-person event. I am surmising that a large percentage of LMHCs renewing licenses in December of 2021 will be in the position in which more than 50% of our CEUs were taken online, despite being high-quality offerings through universities, medical centers, established conferences, and so forth. My hope is that rather than just issuing an emergency waiver allowing for 100% online CEUs, the board will actually take this as an opportunity to review what constitutes an acceptable course. I hope that they will move into modern times and recognize that the "distance learning" of pre-2005 is not the distance learning of 2020, and change the policy to reflect the high-quality interactive offerings that now take place online.