How technology is changing continuing professional education

By Thomas G. Stephens, Jr., CPA.CITP

Twenty years ago, virtually all continuing professional education (CPE) events were the same – an instructor stood in front of an audience flipping transparencies on an overhead projector. To say the least, attention spans were challenged! Then, in the mid-1990s, things began to change with the advent of personal computers, data projectors, and presentation software. Benefitting from technology, CPE events became livelier and more interactive and participants benefitted from more engaging content delivery. Around this time, self-study CPE became more popular, though the delivery mechanism focused on participants reading printed materials and taking tests to prove they had mastered the material. Now the landscape is changing again and accountants across the country stand to benefit from increased CPE opportunities and improved delivery methods.

Live Seminars Still Rule the Day

There is little doubt that live CPE seminars are still the dominant means of providing CPE to accountants. In a tradition-rich profession, many accountants continue to prefer live seminars for the interaction between participants and the discussion leader and for the networking opportunities with other participants. What has changed in this area is that many state societies of CPAs have invested heavily in developing state of the art training facilities to ensure that their members receive the best learning opportunities available. These facilities tend to offer bright, in-ceiling data projectors with large screens for easy viewing of information, wireless Internet access, and enhanced audio-visual capabilities. In addition, the arrival of four-hour live seminars offers participants the opportunity to maximize the value of their time away from the office.

Self-Study Opportunities Continue to Evolve

In days past, self-study CPE tended to be somewhat one dimensional, with little opportunity for interactivity. Technology has changed this medium and promises to change it even more in the future. For instance, an increasing number of organizations now offer self-study CPE programs delivered over the Internet. Such programming allows participants to access traditional printed materials – often available as PDF downloads – along with recorded audio-visual clips that enhance participants' learning experiences. This type of Internet-based self-study programming is available on-demand, meaning it fits into participants' schedules instead of participants rearranging their schedules around live seminars. Further, because it is delivered over the Internet, travel costs are eliminated, providing participants with high-quality programming at a very reasonable cost. Finally, for those among us who tend to procrastinate (and haven't we all run up against CPE reporting deadlines!), testing can be completed on-line and a certificate of completion issued immediately.

New CPE Opportunities Appear Almost Daily

As technology advances, new CPE opportunities appear seemingly on a daily basis. Two vivid examples are "Webinars" and podcasts. Webinars are live seminars delivered over the Internet using tools such as WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Windows Live Meeting. Combining the convenience of Internet-based self-study and the interactivity of live seminars, Webinars offer participants another opportunity for high-quality educational experiences. One potential advantage of Webinar-based CPE is that of cost: because companies seeking to gain accountants' attention often underwrite the expense of producing Webinars, these programs are often available at no cost to participants.

Podcasts are prerecorded self-study opportunities, typically no longer than an hour in length. Such programs provide specialized, focused programming delivered through a medium that allows for convenient review of content. With podcasts, participants can typically listen to streaming audio or choose to download the podcast to their computer or MP3 player for playback. As a self-study offering, testing is required in order to earn CPE credit and many CPE providers offer on-line testing as an added convenience.

CPE For A New Generation Of Accountants

According to the AICPA, 75 percent of its current membership will be eligible for retirement in 2020. As this group of professionals exits the workforce, a new generation of accountants will seek out CPE opportunities that suit their lifestyles. Many of these professionals are already accustomed to and embrace delivery mechanisms such as self-study and Webinars, because they have been exposed to these methods since elementary school. Accordingly, whether through Twitter, Second Life, Facebook, or perhaps most likely, some technology that has yet to be developed, expect this new generation of accountants to utilize technology whenever practical to enhance their CPE experience.

Summary

From humble beginnings, CPE has come a long way and advances in technology have facilitated many of the advances in continuing education opportunities for accountants. As the profession continues to evolve, as we welcome a new generation of accountants, and as advances in technology show no sign of slowing down, there is no reason to expect that opportunities for enhancing professional skills will cease to grow. That is great news for accountants everywhere – it means we have access to the professional development we need, when and where we need it. Whatever your preference for CPE, opportunities abound – be sure to take advantage of those that make sense for you.

About the author
Thomas G. Stephens is a shareholder in K2 Enterprises, where he develops and presents technology-related continuing professional education programs to accounting and finance professionals across the United States. You may reach him at tommy@k2e.com.

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