Learning on the fly

Learn how professional development is changing at CPA Canada to address the changing needs of its members.

Lifelong learning is a catchphrase you often hear in professional development; add to that “learning on the fly” to describe the next phase of the field. Whereas you once attended a monthly or bimonthly training session in a windowless conference room, increasingly, those skills boost are being delivered on your phone, in bite-size chunks, using interactive tools and virtual classrooms. According to Janet Treasure, CPA Canada’s vice-president, Member Development and Support, this evolution is both a challenge and an opportunity for organizations. “We have to stay nimble and provide members with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed—when and where they need it.”

This on-demand, where-you-want-it model is something that Treasure’s colleague, Jennifer LePage, has spent the better part of her life working on. LePage is principal, Technology, Learning Design and Development for CPA Canada—joining the organization in October 2016 after eight-plus years doing similar cutting-edge training at BMO Financial Group. CPA Canada sat down recently with LePage to discuss the changing face of professional development and the rise of microlearning.

CPA Canada: What makes professional development in the finance and accounting field unique?

LePage: It’s the subtext of political change and the overwhelming exposure that people have to risk that’s significantly different than other businesses. There is an incredible amount of change in the politics, the regulations, the oversight, every day—and it’s an increasingly global perspective that people have to take.

CPA Canada: A great deal about the work world has changed over the past 20 or 30 years. Describe how professional development is evolving.

LePage: The work is the same, the people having to learn things are the same—but the method in which they have access to material and information now is not the same. I think that’s the biggest thing nowadays. If somebody is keen and wants to know how to do something, it doesn’t matter what profession they’re in—they can always google it and learn. How many people have installed dishwashers now, not by reading the book that goes with the dishwasher, but simply by googling YouTube and watching all those videos? This sort of on-the-fly learning is now second nature to people—and for the generation of people who have literally grown up with this kind of information technology available to them, it’s no longer a nice-to-have; it’s now an expectation.

CPA Canada: In a nutshell, how would you describe the concept of microlearning?

LePage: Microlearning is acknowledging that people don’t have time to sit in university classes anymore and go through pages and pages of books, and listen to somebody lecture about something. They actually need to know how to do that one thing right now; otherwise, they’re going to have difficulty moving forward with their task or even their career. Essentially, that’s what microlearning tries to address. It tries to address a single point of learning, so how to X, and do it in way that is a job-ready skill. So, from the perspective of CPA Canada, where we do all kinds of work that helps with teaching standards with regulations, we help prepare people to get their professional designations and get the practice they need with these small bite-sized learning pieces. Or, take something with steps, like how to calculate a capital gains strip for a business — a microlearning piece that I can teach in less than 10 minutes. And because I am teaching someone who already knows what capital gains are, I don’t have to start right from the very beginning.

CPA Canada: What are some of the ways microlearning can be delivered?

LePage: One of the more prevalent examples that you’ll see is video. But there are also other things like infographics, if you’re trying to convey a landscape sense of a topic, or there are short, highly interactive HTML5 demos, which are a “show me, tell me, try me,” and that’s what they do. We show them how to do it, we tell them the background, and then we let them try.

CPA Canada: How have you had to rethink your programming for the mobile revolution?

LePage: We’ve had to rejig all of our products so that they are HTML5 compatible, which means that they will go with any phone system, any operating system—anything. But we’ve also tried to rejig all of our content so that it follows user experience guidelines. For example, it has to be broken up in a way that’s easily consumable while someone is being jostled on a train. The microlearning and other products we offer also have to be short enough that they appear in a prominent position where it’s important, yet give people the opportunity to scroll lower if they want to read more or interact more with the content. That is incredibly important when you’re building short pieces of information, whether it’s written, video, or audio podcasting.

CPA Canada: How important is the interactivity of the module to the elearning experience? How do you make sure people are engaged?

LePage: It depends on the medium you’re using. We use things like virtual classrooms, which are small, hands-on practice labs with genuine experts, and we have them practise live case studies. They do hands-on calculations if we’re teaching calculations. We do Q&A sessions or ask an expert. We use polls and surveys in a classroom. Those classrooms are really just like regular face-to-face classrooms; they just happen to be at a distance and they’re built specifically for that particular medium. We also have scenario role-plays.

Elearning as a standalone product has to be engaging enough that the participants don’t get lost in the details and also practical enough with activities and really good examples to help them apply what they’re learning to their surroundings and their jobs almost immediately. If we can get them to see how their learning applies to real life, then we have made good progress in helping them both remember and act on that learning in the workplace.

CPA Canada: What is your most popular professional development program right now?

LePage: Our Excel course. It’s a 10-part elearning course. You’d think, “Accountants—either they know Excel or they’re done with it.” But no, it’s amazing. It’s a video course. Our facilitator, Ken Puls, is really great and really personable, and totally an expert. He’s a very compelling person to watch. But it’s really short and sweet. "Here’s the one thing. You’re going to learn this.” They show you how to do it. You figure it out. You try it on your own and off you go. Ten lessons. Pretty simple. Very effective.

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING

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Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.