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The Future of CEUs Is Digital

How will continuing education units evolve in 2021 and beyond?

Virtual continuing education units (CEUs) have become increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, with many architects and designers indicating they prefer them over in-person events—a sign that this digital shift is here to stay. COURTESY FREDDIE MARRIAGE ON UNSPLASH

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is under way, and with it come murmurs of plans to return to physical offices. Most experts agree that we won’t see widespread return-to-work policies in place until late spring or this summer at the earliest. But there is hope of returning to some sense of normalcy. And that hope is prompting questions within the interiors industry.

Throughout the pandemic, ThinkLab has been studying the intricacies of remote work to understand its evolution and, perhaps more importantly, to digest how it might affect the ways work will be done in the future. Just as critical, ThinkLab’s research explores the industry’s interest in and ability to connect digitally.

While designers are eager for many things to return to normal, we’ve identified one outlier in our research: Architects and designers increasingly rate continuing education units (CEUs) as “better virtually.” As of December 2020, 45 percent of designers surveyed said they’re still increasing their consumption of CEUs. ThinkLab research also suggests that 47 percent of participants want CEUs to remain virtual moving forward, while only 24 percent want them to return to an in-person platform. (The remaining percentage either didn’t attend CEUs or were unsure of their preference.)

So as we prepare to return to the office, what does that mean for CEU participants, and the manufacturers and dealers who present to them? We sat down with ThinkLab’s resident CEU expert Giselle Walsh to discuss the advantages and expectations of digital CEUs, and to develop a list of tips for presenters.


In today’s digital world, information can be easily sourced and compared, elevating the expectations of CEUs from a content and delivery perspective. With so many online courses today, architects and designers have more options than ever, which puts a greater weight on topic selection. “We all know today’s hottest issue, but increased consumption means increased pressure to avoid what can become an echo chamber of repeat information to a designer sitting in on multiple virtual CEUs,” says Walsh. “What’s more, in a digital CEU, it’s easier for participants to multitask, meaning participants are seeking next-level content to keep them engaged.”


Even more than in-person events, digital CEUs necessitate a knowledgeable, compelling presenter and new types of engagement. Remember, just as content is compared, the quality of delivery will be too, and may have an even bigger effect on the “staying power” of a CEU.

“Technology has to be a flawless experience, and presenters must be confi-dent, knowledgeable, and engaging through a screen, which we all know is more difficult to many presenters accustomed to engaging and reading social cues in person,” Walsh notes. It is easy for a digital presentation to feel like one-way communication, with little reaction from the audience.


If the future of CEUs is digital, what allows these events, originally created as a connection point between manufacturers and A&D, to remain a solid opportunity for engagement and interaction? Here are some tips for manufacturers:

Keep content to 45 minutes. (This is the International Continuing Education Design Council’s minimum requirement for one credit.) Everyone is feeling Zoom fatigued, so it’s more important now than ever to end on time.

Leverage the “limits” of technology. Have a team member engage CEU takers in the presentation chat. This not only pro-vides feedback to the presenter but also creates a new digital community experience that helps participants interact with peers in a way that isn’t possible in person. (It’s generally considered impolite to talk to your neighbor during an in-person presentation.)

Elevate your follow-up. With digital CEUs, you have more reach per presentation but make fewer personal connections. Make sure your follow-up involves a familiar face and finds a shared reason to engage. (If you use the chat interaction above, it will give you clues as to mutual interests.)

While in-person CEUs will most likely never go away completely, ThinkLab anticipates that the future of CEUs will remain digital in 2021 and beyond. “We’re taking these insights to heart and researching new delivery methodology—think podcast CEUs, perhaps—to see what resonates most with both presenters and participants,” says Walsh. “It’s an exciting time for CEUs, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of understanding the changes.”

Amanda Schneider is founder and president of ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW. Join in to explore what’s next at


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