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Tony Sheehan

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The challenge of CPD and learning technology


Tying with our monthly theme, Tony Sheehan suggests a redefinition of the abbreviation 'CPD'.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is seen as a critical component in the performance of many professionals, yet it continues to be interpreted in many different ways. The term highlights three critical and perfectly reasonable requirements to ensure the quality of professional advice provided by an individual in our rapidly changing times:

  • Continuing - implying the need to be always reflecting, always learning

  • Professional - implying the need to provide demonstrable competence in practice

  • Development – implying the need to be continuously improving as one seeks to align personal development with industry context.

Alas, CPD in practice is frequently seen in a very different light, with Institutions attempting (and often failing!) to enforce formal minimal CPD requirements of the order of just five days a year by their members. For many individual professionals, CPD conjures up images of judge and jury rather than creating any voluntary evidence base of continuing competence for any institution.

So how can we balance the needs of institutions and the pressures on busy individuals in such challenging times?

Three key trends are helping to shape a better way forward:

Choice for learners

Rather than relying on a limited schedule of formal classroom training, organisations are now embracing the concept of 70/20/10, encouraging learners to manage their own learning in the face of the vast choice of learning materials that are now available. We have entered an age of blended and virtual learning available via L&D portals and mobile devices as well as a world of free content and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) available through Corsera, Edx and Futurelearn. Such assets dramatically increase the choice of learning available and can help top better align it to individual need.

The result is that learning is now more personalised than ever, aligned to both preferred learning style and delivered at a time to suit busy working lives.

Complexity of problems

Rather than a prescriptive view of the skillset required of a solicitor, a lawyer or a nurse, professional institutions have also recognised the greater importance of delivering capability and competence rather than simply compliance at a base level of knowledge. There is simply no point having all the ‘right’ knowledge record unless that knowledge is also applied successfully in practice at the right place and time. In parallel, the complexity of today’s decision-making environment makes it increasingly difficult to understand the ‘right’ answer; individuals need to become as skilled in recognising when to pause, reflect and acknowledge a need to ask for help as knowing when to use their own knowledge and push on with decisions.

The result is that learning and development must become more context specific, more bite sized, more on demand in order to support the needs of urgent decision making in complex environments.

Collaboration and learning technologies

Rather than a solitary record of personal learning used purely for CPD, our world is now awash with a range of rich personal profiles. Organisations and industries now gain peer support using expertise location systems; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow friends to connect to each other’s activities; LinkedIn provides a business-level networking service to individuals and organisations. Many have experienced the joys of working with experts in various corners of the world as a result of discovering their skills through profiles on freelancing sites. All such systems provide a snapshot of experience, perspective, learning, and the result is perhaps the most intriguing opportunity for CPD; the scope to develop new, continuously evolving, records of the personal perspective of learning from experience. Individuals can now reflect and selectively declare their ongoing experience using technologies such as eportfolios and learning record stores in order to create a demonstrable record of continuing competence in their field.

In an age of social media, smart technology and smart people, many aspects of CPD must clearly be preserved, but the view of CPD as enforcement needs to evolve into an approach that is more:

  • Context-based – a tracking of how individual competence has developed over time

  • Personalised – an approach tailored to individual role, responsibility and preferred style of recording (print or online)

  • Defendable – an evidence base to demonstrate good practice in the event of institutional review or of any question that have been raised regarding individual capability.

CPD records may need to change, approaches to assessment of compliance may need to evolve, but the concept of CPD remains critical to the delivery of appropriate professional services in our industries. L&D professionals now have a critical role to play in connecting that need to the development of appropriate learning solutions moving forward.

Tony Sheehan is the learning services director at Ashridge, where he is responsible for providing the business school and external clients with knowledge solutions including Virtual Ashridge and Ashridge Psychometrics. He also explores the impact of new technologies on learning, and contributes to knowledge management campaigns. You can learn more about Virtual Ashridge here


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