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What Is Continuing Education?

Riebe, Deborah A. Ph.D., FACSM

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e318282aeb8
COLUMNS: ACSM Certification

What Is Continuing Education?

Deborah A. Riebe, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Riebe is a past president of the New England Chapter of ACSM and is the current chair of ACSM’s Committee on Certification and Registry Boards. Her research focuses on promoting physical activity in special populations, with an emphasis on obesity and aging.

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.

There is ongoing research in all areas of health and fitness regarding scientifically sound practices, and new discoveries are constantly being made. It is a professional responsibility to keep up with new developments in the field and apply them to your practice. Exercise professionals should participate in lifelong learning to assure that their clients or patients are getting the best care and most accurate information possible.

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Learning occurs along a continuum, from elementary and secondary education to undergraduate and graduate education, and lasting through the end of one’s career. Lifelong learning can be done for the love of discovering new information; however, for professionals, it is often mandated by certification or licensure boards. Continuing education (CE) is the system for maintaining, improving, and broadening knowledge and skill throughout one’s professional life (1). CE is better positioned than other stages of learning because it occurs when professionals are “in the trenches” and most likely to be aware of the areas that they need to develop (1).

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Professional CE is characterized by the issuance of CE credits (CECs) for the purpose of documenting attendance at a seminar or course of instruction. Certification and licensing bodies in many health-related fields require CE for individuals who hold certifications or licenses to practice within a particular profession (1). CECs encourage professionals to maintain competence, improve quality, broaden their knowledge and skills, and remain abreast of new developments in the field. Overall, the purpose of CE is to update and reinforce knowledge, which should ultimately result in better client care.

A CEC is a measure used in CE programs, particularly those required in a licensed or certified profession for the professional to maintain the license or certification. CECs are recorded and provide evidence of completion of CE requirements mandated by certification bodies, professional societies, or governmental licensing boards. The records also provide employers with information on training pertinent to particular occupations. CE units provide the following benefits (2):

* document the educational workshops, conferences, and other professional development events taken by participants

* provide a record of accumulated credits earned and of learning that takes place outside formal educational programs

* provide current or potential employers with evidence of specialized training for job maintenance, career advancement, or job applications

* provide official documentation for employers who determine placement on salary scale based on keeping current in the field

* provide documentation of completion of CE requirements mandated by national certification bodies

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Today, a broad variety of learning methods are used to deliver CE programs, and topics focus on basic and applied scientific content and other practice-related content, such as communications and business. Traditionally, CE was teacher driven and associated with didactic learning methods, such as lectures and seminars, which take place at conferences or in classrooms. Today, there are also learner-driven CE options that allow learning to be tailored to individual needs (1). In this instance, the learner can proceed at his or her own pace.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers a variety of methods for certified professionals to earn CECs. Exercise professionals can select programs that match their preferred style of learning. Opportunities to earn CECs from ACSM include:

* ACSM conferences. Each year, ACSM hosts national, regional, and specialty conferences, including ACSM’s Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition and ACSM’s Annual Meeting, held each March and May, respectively. Each of the 12 regional chapters of ACSM hosts an annual 1- or 2-day meeting, and other more targeted conferences such as ACSM’s Team Physician Course and the World Congress on Exercise is Medicine® are available. Along with the opportunity to network, conferences give you exposure to leaders in the field that will present the latest research and provide information about how the research can be applied to your practice.

* Online self-tests. ACSM’s Certified News self-tests are designed specifically for ACSM-certified professionals and are available quarterly for 4 CECs per issue. Self-tests associated with ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal® are based on articles published in the journal and are available bimonthly for 4 CECs per issue as a benefit for members of ACSM’s Alliance of Health and Fitness Professionals (

* Webinars. Webinars addressing a variety of topics are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at

* Additional ACSM certifications. Individuals who are already certified by ACSM can earn CECs by taking one of the specialty certifications, such as the ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, Certified Inclusive Trainer, or Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist, or by gaining a higher core certification (by meeting eligibility requirements).

* Certification-specific workshop and webinars. ACSM workshops and webinars are not only available for examination preparation but also can be used for CECs.

* Approved Provider Program. Many other organizations are approved to provide ACSM CECs for programs, meetings, conferences, workshops, webinars, and home study options. The list of approved providers can be found in each issue of the Journal or at

* Nonapproved programs. You can petition for credits for attending a conference or meeting that has not been approved by ACSM as a provider if the program addresses current certification objectives.

* Miscellaneous. CECs also can be earned by participating in many other educational or professional activities such as taking an exercise science-related college course or writing for a peer-reviewed professional publication.

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ACSM-certified professionals are required to earn CECs to keep their certificates current. Based on the results from a Job Task Analysis, along with a comprehensive review of recertification policies and procedures of similar credentials from other organizations, the Committee for Certification and Registry Boards determined that the certification period for ACSM-certified professionals is 3 years. During that time, it is the responsibility of the certified professional to earn the appropriate amount of CECs to apply for recertification (Table 1).

Table 2 provides some helpful tips for consideration when planning your CE activities. A thoughtful approach in the selection of topics and programs to participate in can contribute to professional growth and may open up employment opportunities. For example, perhaps you don’t have a great deal of experience in exercise for older adults. If you consider that approximately 10,000 people in the United States are turning 65 years old every day and this is expected to continue for the next 20 years, using CE courses to learn more about working with this population could have a major impact on your career.

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1. Institute of Medicine. Redesigning Continuing Education in the Health Professions. Washington (DC): National Academies Press; 2010. p 15–28.
2. Seton Hall University Continuing Education and Professional Studies. CEPS Continuing Education Units [cited 2012 Oct 16]. Available from:
© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine