Dear Commissioner Lowe –
I need to complete the remaining 18 hours of my mandated 24 hour Continuing Education (CE) classes by February 28.
As real estate agents are prone to do, I’ve been putting this off until the last minute. I did take six hours of outstanding live CE classes earlier this year, but as I sipped my cup of java this morning and looked through upcoming available classes, I quickly realized my procrastination meant I was going to have to finish my CE hours online. As much as I believe in education, there simply isn’t enough time left in the month for me to sit in a classroom for 18 hours.
Ms. Lowe, I know you are well aware that the daily maximum limit of completing CE is nine hours. That makes perfect sense, as it would not be conducive to have a “student” sitting in class for more than nine hours in any given day. That’s a good rule, whether classes are attended in person, or virtually on the world wide web.
Want to guess how long it took me to actually complete my three classes today, giving me a total of nine hours of CE credit?
Go ahead, guess…
Yep, I spent 34 minutes today online, and got credit for 9 hours of CE classes — three hours each in Disclosure Law, Agency Law, and Fair Housing.
Thirty-four minutes. The first class took 13 minutes to complete, the second took 12 minutes, and the last took 9 minutes. That nine minutes was on Fair Housing, arguably the most important of the three courses.
A few months ago, I took Defensive Driving online because… well because I tend to drive too fast and needed traffic school to take a speeding ticket off my record.
That class required me to sit in front of a computer for six or eight hours. I don’t remember exactly how long, although it felt like a week.
Nine minutes of my time to get three hours of credit in Fair Housing.
Appalling, isn’t it?
I know Arizona used to require online CE classes be “timed” — so that you couldn’t advance screens of text until enough time had lapsed for you to actually read the text. At least that is the theory behind timed sessions. That’s what the defensive driving class did to force me to sit at a computer for hours on end. (Just between you and me, I didn’t read much of that material either. I worked on my second monitor and advanced the traffic school material when it would let me).
These real estate CE classes presented a screen of text, but there was nothing that prevented me from clicking immediately to the “quiz” for that section. There I was presented with four to seven questions. If I got any questions wrong, I could just guess until I got them right. Then I’d skip the text of the next section, and take the next “quiz”. Once I got through all those modules, I was presented with the course “exam”. That consisted of one “essay question” (and I use the term “essay” VERY liberally) and then I was presented with multiple choice questions. Those were word-for-word, in order even, to the “quizzes” I’d already completed.
While the system did prevent me from going back and reviewing the quizzes, it didn’t prevent me from taking a screen shot of all the correct answers.
But to be honest, I didn’t really need the screen shots very much. Here is a sample question from the Fair Housing class:
I asked my daughter if she knew the answer to this question. She’s a senior in high school and wicked smart, but I did get “the eye roll” and she replied, “Dad, I learned that in second grade.”
How exactly does “learning” this protect the public?
(Of note, I actually did learn something in the Fair Housing class. I learned that Mississippi was the last state to ratify the 13th amendment that outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude. Mississippi ratified the 13th amendment in 1995, some 130 years after it was first proposed. I found that trivia quite interesting, though again how the answer to that trivia question helps protect the public is beyond me. Now if I ever wind up on Jeopardy!, that’s a different story.)
Do I Feel Guilty for Completing 9 Hours of CE in 34 Minutes?
No, not really. As I already stated, I am a proponent of continuing education. We in the real estate industry need to continuously learn, to stay on top of all sorts of developments, rules, practices and law in our field. But you see, I actually spend hundreds of hours every year learning, “continuing my education”, developing my skills and knowledge. I attend conferences. I attend sessions at my local, state and nationals associations that educate me. Heck, I once paid for and took an in-person CE class when I didn’t “need the hours” just to hear AAR’s Legal Counsel Michelle Lind speak on current legal issues. The proctors in that class were stunned when I waived off my CE certificate. “You mean you took this class when you didn’t have to?”
Of course I did.
So no, I don’t feel guilty about blowing through Fair Housing in nine minutes. I simply took advantage of the system.
A deeply flawed system.
I passed the quizzes. I passed that hellish “essay question” of “Why were Fair Housing laws created?”. Seriously? I’ve been in real estate for over seven years. I’m a Designated Broker. If I can’t answer that question in my sleep, I shouldn’t be in real estate.
(Incidentally, my “essay” answer, that is supposedly reviewed by the school before I am awarded my CE certificate, was along the lines of, “Fair Housing laws were created to prevent discrimination against certain ‘classes’ of people. The law has been amended and the classes expanded several times.” Whew, that was a brutal question! But at least the “reviewer” was on the ball as I had my certificate in my email within five minutes of completing the “exam”.)
Are Online Classes Evil?
No, not inherently. I once took an online graduate course as part of my (never completed) MBA program and it was one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding classes I’ve ever taken. Online learning can work. “Seat time” in a physical class does not ensure learning takes place. I’m certified to teach a Continuing Ed class and even though it consistently gets rave reviews I can assure you that some are there only to “get their hours” and they learn nothing. You can’t force someone to learn. All you can do is offer good material in an environment that is conducive to learning, with good instructors (or developers and systems in the case of online delivery) and provide an opportunity for learning.
The current online system doesn’t really do that. Maybe the material is good, but the delivery system practically begs for “cheating”. Humans being humans, and agents being busy, the vast majority of time we are going to take the shortest, most efficient route to getting something like required CE hours out of the way.
I don’t know the solution to this problem. Timing systems help. In my traffic school class I actually found myself reading some of the material because I could not advance the screens quickly. A complete revamp of the presented text might help. Let’s face it, the history lesson that was Fair Housing, while I enjoy studying history, does absolutely zero to protect the consumer or help the real estate agent.
I have a hunch the answer is going to be, “No more online CE hours,” and that will be a band-aid to a more systemic issue. Adult education is a complex field, and it requires trained instructors and professionally developed course material. Banishing online courses to the ether isn’t the solution. Developing effective training material, holding “train the trainer” sessions, a more stringent course approval process, increased auditing of existing courses — all that (and more) needs to be done.
Education is critical. The classes I took today are ludicrous. Something needs to be done.