By Ramiro Solórzano
Manager, CES Audits
Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of working with Andrée Iffrig. She oversees the AIA Continuing Education System for her company Dirtt – Environmental Solutions. One of the fun parts about my job is Provider Recognition on their best practices so that the AIA CES and our Providers can embody those best practices. Over several months I have been getting “kudos” from our AIA CES Feedback. I personally review course feedback submitted by AIA members and I was happy to hear really positive feedback on Dirtt – Environmental Solutions. I followed up with Andrée Iffrig and to ask her about her best practices.
Andrée Iffrig explains Dirtt – Environmental Solutions’ unique approach to continuing education by using course sessions as forums where participants challenge sustainability standards.
“We built a curriculum around our message of environmental sustainability. Our approach was to be a bit of a fly in the ointment and push back on the viewpoint that Recycling and Recycled Materials should be the focus in building a sustainable space. We kept a close watch on the responses we were getting to our program and continually tweaked our script to ensure participants were getting the most out of the session. We’ve learned that being provocative – getting people to question accepted wisdom – doesn’t make everyone happy but most people leave with a new perspective on the meaning of sustainability.”
In the future, Iffrig looks to expand their influence as leaders in sustainability education and “to reach as many design professionals as possible with a message about true sustainability on the building interior. To provoke and get people to reframe. To grow from our current course offerings, adding fresh topics that are relevant, timely and that promote a positive learning environment. “
Dirtt – Environmental Solutions’ main focus is on prefab interior construction, however they plan to expand their course selections to “focus on the powerful benefits of prefab interior construction as a method that can help the design community with their time and their fees while giving clients the best results. We intend to grow from two courses on manufactured interiors to new courses on specific healthcare applications, education and upcoming residential sectors with regard to custom, prefab interior construction. We also offer a third course on sustainable design principles.”
Having active participation from course attendees is their biggest attribute to their instruction. Dirrt’s instructors offer a dialogue with members and they review their feedback carefully so that they can adjust their courses accordingly to consider the learner’s needs. Iffrig explains how, “The original courses on prefab construction were lecture format. Our instructors had a point to make – the limitations of conventional construction – and a lecture format could be varied according to the teaching styles of different presenters. The limitations of this format have been recognized and changes are ongoing, with audience participation having been added to one of the courses. A third course created one year ago is based on a Discovery Learning model and is 50% interactive work. This course features the use of Big Questions, with discussion in small groups and then sharing for larger group discovery. DIRTT recently established a Learning and Development function and over the next 6 to 12 months, we will be revamping courses or establishing new ones that use interactive techniques to engage learners and enrich their experience in our courses.”
“We recently hired a learning and development specialist to head up our training function. He brings a wealth of experience in this field. His team will be working with our CEU coordinator to introduce more participation from course attendees and shift from a training to learning perspective. One of our course writers uses the Discovery Model of learning (a process of personal reflection, small group discussion of Big Questions and large group report back and discovery). This process is respectful of different learning styles and contributes to the creation of new learning. Both approaches are constantly evaluated through attendee feedback. We are using SurveyShare.com currently to collect feedback, having used paper surveys in the past. The Discovery Model presentations are pre-tested with groups inside and outside our business. Feedback keeps us on our toes and ever-attentive to learner needs.”
Dirrt reaches out not just to architects, but to other professionals in the design field. They use social media and face-to-face networking, however Iffrig explains how they “made a decision not to use online course formats for our DIRTT courses aimed at the A&D community, although we do design online courses for our software users. DIRTT Sales Reps are responsible for contacting their clients (designers, architects, etc.) to either arrange to visit their offices for a lunch n learn, or have them be our guests in the premises of our Distribution Partners, located in dozens of cities in the U.S. We also present at building seminars (NeoCon and AIA events in the US, and Buildex and other conferences in Canada, e.g. the Festival of Architecture). Our marketing department supports Sales Reps with beautiful e-vites and course overviews. We often present simultaneously to interior designers and architects, which means our courses are featured at the IDCEC’s website. We find the best way to reach people is through Facebook notices (posted by individual Sales Reps) and with personal invitations to attend seminars. Sometimes we partner with organizations that offer courses, e.g. trade organizations or green networks. Face to face contact works best for us when it comes to the delivery of AIA CEUs.”
What Andrée Iffrig and her team bring to the AIA Continuing Education System and to our members is the careful attention of member participation and feedback that her instructors put into practice. One of our members who attended one of the courses replied with, “The presenters' understanding of the product was very good. They were able to answer almost every question posed and were willing to admit if they didn't have an answer. Being able to admit not knowing something is refreshing. My group tends to ask some unusual questions.” Her instructors are well prepared and well versed in the subject matter and in addition, they offer audience participation and take their feedback seriously.
Thank you to Andrée Iffrig for her contribution to this piece.