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How will the Internet impact on CPD?


This article was written for the journal Personal & Professional Development and first published in the August/September 2000 issue.

For anyone professionally engaged in staff and organisational develoment, three words or phrases are now an established part of the everyday language: managing change, continuing professional development (CPD), and Internet. Yet these are also highly confusing terms, with different meanings and values depending on who you speak to, and often difficult for the average manager, coach or trainer to stay informed about.

In this article I'd like to explore a few ideas on how change, CPD and the Internet might all be linked and understood. It also marks the re-launch of the website run by The Institute of Continuing Professional Development (ICPD), a small but growing group of people drawn from across a broad spectrum of professions and disciplines all of whom are committed to the practice of good CPD in their work.

The ICPD itself is a small organisation run from central London. By creating its own website, it is attempting to achieve three things:

  • The site acts as an information centre for members which can be quickly and readily updated with news, briefing papers, events, links to partner organisations, etc. Alongside the main site there is also an email newswire facility to which members can add themselves in order to be directly alerted to CPD news and developemnts.
  • It also acts as an information centre for non-members who have access to much of the same information, as an in inducement for joining or taking a greater interest in CPD activities.
  • And a well designed website can also relieve a small central office of several time-consuming administrative tasks. The Events Directory will enable members to book their attendance at CPD events online, and the new Members Directory will allow registered members to update their own personal details – and in the medium term may replace the need to print-publish a members directory.

      Even from such a simple site, some of the advantages of using the Internet to manage change start to become apparent. The Web allows news and information to be published and distributed quickly and at virtually no additional cost. By giving users a high degree of control over their personal profile and newswire alerts, this briefing service can be customised in terms of both content and frequency. And networking interactions between people – often in geographically distant locations – is made very cheap and easy through the use of online discussion forums, comments appended to news stories, and newswire distributions. Whilst the ICPD site already offers many of these features, far greater functionality is also possible and some illustrations of this can be found in the technology of the TrainingZONE site which is presently used to power the ICPD web presence.

      This leads us to consider some of the wider ways in which the Internet can be used to support and extend the CPD activities of any individual. With time at a premium for most professionals, attending conventional workshops and seminars is not always possible, and responsibility for organising personal CPD activities is increasingly devolved to the individual. Whilst there are many ways in which the Internet can support this, here are three examples.

      1. Using the internet for self-directed study
      The Internet is, quite literally, the world's largest library. It's virtually impossible to calculate how many pages of information are currently published online, but quoting a figure of 8,000,000,000 gives you some idea of the potential availability of information. For virtually everything you want to know, there will be an answer on the Internet. The problem is in finding it! Many users are most familiar with the well-known branded search engines such as AltaVista, Yahoo and Lycos, but there are a growing number of sophisticated searching tools which work in different ways and can often find relevant information faster. Two that are worth trying are Google and All the Web.

      With this kind of search capability, it becomes easy to define, manage and carry through your own project for self-directed study. A project on, for example, 'Developing appropriate methods for managing staff who work from home or at a distance' becomes very simple when a search engine can be asked to look for resources on 'virtual teams', 'home workers' and 'management'.

      2. Using the internet for issue-based learning
      Where you have a need for regular learning around a specific topic or issue, there is almost certainly a discussion group already in existence. Around 30,000 public discussion groups can usually be found by downloading the list of News Groups made available by all the well known Internet Service Providers (with whom you already have a contract to connect to the Internet). Probably of more value will be the less public discussion forums provided on the main website devoted to any specific topic. For example, the ICPD website has its own discussion page devoted to just CPD issues, and the TrainingZONE website has a series of discussion areas allocated to a range of different conference topics. Visiting these pages enables the user to read all past postings (or 'threads' as they are called) and add comments and suggestions of their own, which are then usually automatically emailed to people previously contributing to the same discussion. This kind of facility is a simple and effective method of staying briefed about a wide range of professional topics of interest.

      More and more website now also offer real-time Chat pages. 'Chat' is something of a misnomer as communication still requires the typing of contributions through a keyboard, but groups of people (from 2 to 50 in number) can go to the same page at the same time and communicate with each other; their contributions to a discussion appear immediately. Not only is this a great conferencing facility (capable of networking people from around the world at insignificant cost), but on TrainingZONE we use it to deliver a regular programme of issue-base workshops with facilitators hosting discussion on pre-determined topics and inputting their own expertise on the subject for the benefit of other participants.

      3. Using the internet for online learning
      There has been so much noise about online learning recently, that few people can be unaware of the revolution which is taking place. At it's simplest, online learning may do no more than take classroom learning material (notes, activities, handouts, video clips) and make it available for delivery to any individual in their own time through their desktop computer. Today, online learning is rapidly gaining in technical features: programmes can assess and track progress, engage the learner in more interactive learning, and suggest next-step learning once one programme is complete. From a small base, the range of programmes available to companies and individuals for inclusion in their online learning programme library is increasing all the time. Examples of online learning companies include click2learn, and KnowledgePool

      Finally, in an article about CPD, which should not forget the importance of recording the learning which has taken place, and the value which such recording has in encouraging the learner to reflect further on their learning. Several of the online learning companies already offer sophisticated tracking systems for managing and recording the learning programmes of individuals, but for something which is more directly under the control of the individual professional, have a look at the simple CPD Record provided on both the ICPD website and TrainingZONE. Using a very simple template, the user completes a record of their own learning which is then automatically emailed to them for storing in a personal learning portfolio. Despite all this technology, it's often the simplest ideas which work best!

      Tim Pickles is Managing Director of TrainingZONE the UK's largest online professional community for Training and HR professionals, operated by Sift plc. TrainingZONE powers the new ICPD website.


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