Alphabet Soup – CE, CEU, and CNE

Cortez Deacetis

One of the most common questions about online education for nurses is about the difference between CE, CEU, and CNE. This is a source of confusion for both new nurses and experienced professionals and the goal here is to clear this up once and for all.

Many people attempt to use the terms interchangeably. Although each of these three terms do refer to continuing education, they each mean slightly different things. The definitions are listed below:

CE – This is an abbreviation for continuing education and is a general term. It is not referring to any units of time or measurement, rather it is simply classifying the type of material concerned.

CEU – This is the abbreviation for continuing education unit and is perhaps the most misunderstood item in online education. Traditionally, this refers to 10 hours of material. However, it is common to see course descriptions such as, “This course is worth 2 CEUs”. Although this would literally mean that the course is worth 20 hours, it is often used to describe only 2 hours. Most state nursing boards are now pushing for the elimination of the term CEU due to the amount of confusion that it has caused. Whenever you are looking for continuing education be sure that the provider has clarified the exact amount of hours (preferably they should use the term Contact Hours).

A quick note on the term “contact hours” – contact hours can be defined as 60 minutes (in some states they can be defined as 50 minutes – but that is a different discussion altogether) of learning material. Normally, when referring to the length of a continuing education course the amount of hours are referred to as contact hours. For example: “This course is worth 1.5 contact hours”.

CNE – This is an abbreviation for Continuing Nursing Education and refers to materials that are specific for nurses. It is a general term and is not referring to a specific amount of hours or some other form of measurement. Whenever possible, providers should clearly identify their courses as CNE when they are nursing specific forms of continuing education. This can help avoid confusion between other medical professionals.

In the end, each of these terms have their own distinct definitions and uses. The online environment has created a wide range of available online continuing education options for health care providers and a working knowledge of these differing abbreviations can help an individual better search through the multitude of options.

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