Continuing education credit varies by subject matter, time commitment, and regulatory or professional compliance. As people typically complete continuing education for employment or professional reasons rather than meeting academic requirements, continuing education credit issues are both considerable and complex. Licensing and professional organizations recognize that there are many different types of continuing education available, which is why many of them take additional steps to clarify the appropriateness of different continuing education programs and may set strict criteria for recognizing coursework completed through various providers.
Generally speaking, continuing education is formal training and education for individuals who are already employed in a profession, administrative role, or a trade. Ideally, continuing education provides its students with updated or extended knowledge that is useful to their ability to perform their jobs and further their careers. Continuing education courses can be found in a wide variety of fields, including health care, building trades, and business management. While some continuing education courses are designed to enhance or add to a worker's skill set, some courses are specifically informational in nature and may be required because updated information is crucial to a worker's ability to safely perform his job. Examples of such continuing education courses include courses in local sanitation laws for hairdressers or updates to accepted appraisal processes for real estate appraisers.
Not all continuing education credit is issued in the same format. Many providers of continuing education and organizations that require it measure continuing education in the form of the Continuing Education Unit (CEU). The CEU is generally considered to represent the completion of 10 hours of continuing education instruction. As no one organization owns or has trademarked the term CEU, any organization or individual, for that matter, can award a CEU to another with no restrictions on the amount of education actually completed. For this reason, organizations that approve, issue, or require CEUs are often very specific about the amount of instruction a student must complete to qualify for a CEU. Some organizations simply refuse to use the term CEU and have developed their own time measurements for continuing education credit.
Licensing boards and professional organizations may set their own standards for the issuing of continuing education credit, accrediting or approving continuing education programs that meet their standards. Some of these organizations may define the amount of time required for the completion of a CEU. For example, some may regard 50 minutes of instruction as the equivalent of an continuing education credit hour, while other organizations may require that a student submit to a full 60 minutes of instruction. Organizations requiring continuing education often set requirements governing the credentials of continuing education instructors, acceptable curriculum topics, and school administration standards. If a provider fails to meet these standards, its continuing education credit offerings may not be recognized for a student's continued professional licensure, organizational membership, or employment requirements.