There are many forces today dramatically reshaping the CPA profession and the way CPAs do business: globalization, the rise of the CPA specialist, and the impact of technology on the workplace, to name a few. If CPAs want to stay ahead of the curve, they will need to embrace new ways of learning to thrive in this competitive, rapidly evolving business world, according to the recent findings of an American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) task force on education.
On May 19, the AICPA's Task Force on the Future of Learning released the findings of a new report on the state of professional development in the CPA profession. The report, task force members say, is "designed to spark a reinvention of career development within the CPA profession." The task force is also meant to chart the course of that re-invention.
The task force, which delivered the report at the AICPA's Spring Council Meeting, urged the CPA profession to explore new educational delivery methods to help CPAs meet the demands of the ever evolving global marketplace.
"When it comes to lifelong learning, one size does not fit all anymore," said Lawson Carmichael, the AICPA's senior vice president of strategy, people, and innovation, and co-chair of the task force. "As the profession evolves, CPAs must develop new skills and employ new learning methods. We need to leverage technology, embrace new approaches and think creatively to accommodate these changes."
The task force, which comprises a broad cross-section of public accounting firm leaders, industry CPAs, regulators, association leaders, and educators, spent the past year discussing major trends in education, reviewing promising innovations, and determining which changes might best apply to CPA professional development.
According to the AICPA, the task force "examined the impact of globalization, the rise of specialization within the profession, the shifting dynamics of the workplace, and the differing expectations that millennial generation CPAs bring to their careers and learning."
"There are so many forces that are reshaping the accounting profession, " said Clar Rosso, AICPA vice president, member learning and competency, and a member of the task force. "Unfortunately, professional development hasn't always kept pace with these changes. This isn't unique to CPAs, by any means—every profession is facing similar challenges."
"CPAs rightfully pride themselves on their technical expertise," Rosso said. "But in addition to these skills, as a profession we also need to develop new skills that will help CPAs navigate a global marketplace. We have to anticipate and adapt to the evolving business needs of our clients and employers, and that starts with reinventing how we learn."
To launch that reinvention, the task force has developed a new website, scheduled to debut this summer, which is designed to explore how the CPAs can utilize technology to enhance their learning through new delivery methods.
The website will contain the findings of the report, Rosso said, and explore some of the new learning possibilities that may revolutionize professional development, including:
- Just-in-time learning. Customized learning available when—and how—a CPA needs it. Illustrative of the fact that one-size-fits-all CPE is no longer a viable option, this delivery method means busy and highly specialized CPAs won't have to sift through hours of "trivia" to find that nugget of learning that helps them to better serve their clients and employers, Rosso said.
- Gamification. Using gaming concepts such as recognition, reward, moderate levels of competition, interactivity, and progress monitoring to enhance learning experiences. "To be clear, we are not suggesting turning all CPE into the latest Candy Crush. Rather, we are suggesting using gaming elements to enhance learning," Rosso said.
- Nano-learning. Small, bite-sized courses that are typically five to 10 minutes long, delivered through a webcast or podcast. Nano-learning is generally consumed in a just-in-time fashion as opposed to a pre-determined schedule.
Rosso said the task force chose to encapsulate its findings in the website, instead of a traditional white paper, because they "wanted something more innovative and representative of the kind of changes we seek."
"When the website launches, people will find information presented in a lot of interesting ways and in a more interactive format. We hope this serves as a starting point for a conversation about the future of learning in the profession," Rosso said.
The task force also delivered four main recommendations on the future of professional learning:
- Innovate and experiment. Leverage technology to enhance learning experiences. Implement small changes for a huge impact.
- Ignite a passion for learning. Start with the learner's needs. Make learning engaging and relevant. New learning experiences could include mentoring or peer-to-peer learning experiences.
- Make learning personal. Filter content and focus resources that address individuals' knowledge and competency needs. Deliver any topic, anywhere, any way. Preferred delivery methods for learning could include classroom instruction, webcast, or online self-study
- Measure what matters. Rethink compliance to measure learning competency, development or performance. Create and leverage a unified, global competency framework. Develop one uniform, global compliance standard.
The AICPA emphasizes the task force is merely meant to serve as a starting point to foster innovative learning, and "experimentation in the profession."
The next step in the reinvention, officials say, is to organize idea exchange groups and other collaborations around this topic in the weeks ahead.
"Our current system works, but it could be better," Rosso said. "To create meaningful change, we need to understand how to best help CPAs to build their competency while serving the public interest."
Rosso said the AICPA will continue to evolve its education offerings, and many firms are doing innovative things in this space as well, but "there needs to be more done."
"I believe some early changes we will see include an acknowledgment at the regulatory level that learning doesn't only happen in 50-minute increments," Rosso said.