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Insights into Continuing Education on the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG)

Stephanie Vierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, President, Vierra Design & Education Services, LLC and

Richard Paradis, PE, BSCP, Bd. Cert. NCE, Director Whole Building Design Guide, National Institute of Building Sciences

April 30, 2013

In September, AIA CES invited Richard Paradis of the National Institute of Building Sciences to share his experiences as a Provider with the Continuing Education System. We were looking for an alternative medium to capture Provider best practices and recording a podcast proved to be a good place to start. This month, we are featuring a follow-up article to the Developing Distance Education for Architects podcast which will explore new content and continuing education courses produced by NIBS.

What is the Whole Building Design Guide?

A unique web portal, the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) is intended to promote high-performance design through technical criteria, design guidance, case studies, and continuing education, and many other sources of information. What makes the website and content unique is that it is presented from a “whole building perspective” which encourages understanding of the interrelatedness of the issues. It is also designed to inform the user about the integrated design process through collaboration across disciplines and topics that support the design, construction, and operations and maintenance phases of buildings. The site is owned by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and the contributions to the site are provided by professionals from many backgrounds and perspectives, leaders and subject matter experts on the topics, ensuring that the information is the most relevant and up to date.

Topics covered in the site range from performance and sustainability to security and resilience. The three main categories of the site offer general and in-depth information on Design Guidance, Project Management, and Operations & Maintenance. The Building Information Modeling (BIM) section provides links to BIM resources and the National BIM Standard and Libraries. The WBDG connects the user to additional support resources including the Construction Criteria Base (CCB) and the thousands of documents offered there which are available from many federal agencies. The Building Envelope Design Guide (BEDG) and the Mechanical Insulation Design Guide (MIDG) are among the most frequently used and downloaded documents and reinforce many concepts presented in the site through guidance and practical applications.

The Whole Building Design Guide continues to grow in size and usage. On average, the WBDG now attracts 500,000 unique visitors each month who download an average of 5 million pdfs per month. However, in February of 2013, WBDG set a new record for downloads at 7.1 million. Users of the site come from the public and private sectors as well as from academia and from many countries around the world, demonstrating the effectiveness and quality of the content that resonates across professions and cultures. Many of these users are also visiting the site to take the continuing education courses that are offered.

Continuing Education on the WBDG

The WBDG currently offers 35 online courses, including the recently completed “Building Science Basics” which will support the growing interest and demand for this topic expressed by AIA members and other professionals. The courses featured offer an introduction to Whole Building Design concepts and more specific applications for design objectives, building types, and operations and maintenance practices. Courses like “Principles and Goals of Accessible Design”, and “Planning for Secure Buildings” draw upon content developed as part of the Design Objectives sections. Other courses like “Defining, Evaluating, and Selecting Green Products” and “Window and Glazing Design Strategies for Sustainable Design” expand the focus out to address sustainability topics that also tie into LEED requirements. Several pages that support each other are brought together to form the basis of the course to offer a broad and integrated perspective to the learning process. For example, users taking the “High-Performance EIFS for Sustainable Construction” course may also learn about aesthetics and energy efficiency when they choose to link through to those WBDG resources embedded within the pages.

A number of U.S. Department of Energy - Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) courses consisting of nine e-learning courses and nine First Thursday Seminars are also offered on the site. These interactive, self-paced courses are supportive of the Federal Building Personnel Training Act competencies targeting Federal Energy, Water, and Sustainability Managers. All WBDG courses and FEMP e-learning courses qualify for AIA HSW Learning Units. Many WBDG and FEMP courses also qualify for GBCI CE hours which LEED professionals can take to maintain their credential.

Course topics are suggested in many different ways including by the needs of the users; through collaborations with other organizations (like FEMP) interested in using the WBDG platform as a means to get their courses to a broader audience; and by developing new WBDG content that forms the basis for new courses.

The WBDG and its continuing education courses are truly of value to all building design professionals. Architects and construction managers working on a project together should consider taking the “Integrated Design Process” course. All members of the project development team, in advance of the charrette or project team meetings, would benefit from taking this course to gain a better understanding of the value that early planning and decision making have on a project. Then, as the team begins to develop the project and considers various design strategies, team members could take other courses to familiarize themselves with design strategies appropriate for the project.

Additional Outlets for the WBDG Continuing Education Content

To reach a broader audience and promote the WBDG, presentations are regularly given at meetings and conferences and through podcasts and webinars. NIBS provides significant offerings of face-to-face education through the Annual Building Innovation Conference and conferences on building envelopes, hazard mitigation, seismic design, and resilience, among others. Requests for these types of presentations can be sent to the Director of the WBDG ( and tailored to suit the needs of the audience and conference focus.

Continually Improving the Course Offerings

The process for enrolling in and taking CES courses on the WBDG is meant to be a seamless one. Users simply create an account to begin taking the courses which are structured to direct them to read through a sequence of content before taking a test. Upon passing the test, users must complete an affidavit to demonstrate that the course is keeping within the credit hours established. An evaluation form must be completed which provides valuable feedback to the WBDG course developers on the effectiveness of the topic, the relatedness of the information, and the overall learning platform and experience. One learner commented that, “WBDG courses are the best available on sustainable design and construction. Thank you.” Another user stated that “he would be able to immediately apply the information to his work.” Upon completing that process, AIA members receive their learning units and other professionals may print the certificate of completion to present to their organization for credit. Whether an architect in Los Angeles or a property owner in South Dakota, knowing who the course users are provides a glimpse into the lives of many professionals working to make a positive difference in how they approach their building projects and responsibilities.

Users may comment on the content or offer suggestions for future courses, which often align with national membership priorities or growing professional education requirements. Those suggestions are considered and presented to the WBDG Advisory Board to demonstrate the effectiveness of the courses and support the updating of courses for clarity, accuracy, or expanded and new perspectives. So there are mechanisms in place to continually evolve and improve the continuing education experience. With over 13,500 course users from many professions and countries around the world, the future of WBDG continuing education knows no bounds.

Taking a WBDG Course

To get started, visit the Whole Building Design Guide Education Site at to view all the course offerings. Simply enroll and select the course that you wish to take and enjoy the learning process.


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