The Future of Learning in Montana

by Joshua Herbold, PhD, CPA, University of Montana
MSCPA Board of Directors and Future of Learning Task Force Chair

Josh Herbold, MSCPA Future of Learning Task Force Chair

Josh Herbold, MSCPA Future of Learning Task Force Chair

Where does real learning happen? According to a recent survey of MSCPA members, over 77% of Montana accounting ninjas (thanks to Craig Birgenheier’s recent blog post, I will henceforth be referring to CPAs as accounting ninjas) say that they do not have a comprehensive learning plan for their professional development. Furthermore, when we asked these accounting ninjas what they do when they need to learn something, the top three responses (personal research, asking colleagues, and internet searches) were items where the “learning” isn’t reflected in our traditional model of CPE.

We all see the changes that are taking place in the world around us, and many feel that the pace of this change is increasing. “Continuing Professional Education” needs to be about maintaining and improving competency in this ever-changing world. Montana was one of the first states to recognize the need for continuous education, and that need is even more pressing today. But the way that “education” is currently measured has limitations.

Specifically, the current CPE model only measures one input to education: hours spent in a class. But inputs to a system do not always lead to the expected outputs. While traditional CPE courses can, and usually do, lead to some learning and knowledge, that link is not guaranteed, nor is the knowledge gained consistent across learners. One person might struggle for days to learn a concept that another person masters in just a few hours. If both people have gained the same knowledge and the same competency, should the credit that they earn for their work be similar or different?

A related issue is that different people learn in different ways. Research has identified at least four to seven different learning styles—and one study claims that there are 70 different learning styles! While learners are not limited to a single learning style (the researcher in me suspects that many of us tend to lean towards a mix of two or three different styles), the evidence suggests that there are demonstrable differences in how we learn. For example, verbal learners and social learners will both gain some knowledge from an online self-study course, but it will likely not be the same knowledge.

We propose that knowledge and learning can be measured in different ways. The current model for traditional CPE is one way to measure knowledge. But it’s not the only way. Does “learning” need to take place in formal, one-hour classes? Or can a series of 10-minute podcasts provide the same (or better) knowledge? If you’ve researched a topic on your own, have you learned anything? If you’ve identified a weakness in your own competencies and addressed it, have you continued your professional education?

To address these issues, the MSCPA has formed the Future of Learning Task Force. The task force met earlier this year, and developed the following mission statement:

The purpose of the Future of Learning Task Force is to enhance, expand, and improve the availability of professional learning opportunities for Montana CPAs. This task force will encourage Montana CPAs to personalize their professional learning by:

  1. Providing resources to help CPAs efficiently plan their professional learning path.
  2. Exploring alternative ways of measuring learning.
  3. Facilitating the approval of credit for innovative and experimental learning opportunities.

We’re not alone in our desire to enhance the profession’s options for learning. Other states have started these discussions (for example, the Maryland State Board of Public Accountancy recently approved 10-minute CPE increments. The AICPA also just released their own “Future of Learning” report.

Just as the businesses that we serve strive to be flexible in order to respond to changes in their environment, we need to be flexible and respond to changes in our environment. Through the Future of Learning Task Force, we hope to supplement the current model of CPE so that accounting ninjas can better match their learning needs to the available learning opportunities. If you have any suggestions for the task force, please feel free to email me at joshua.herbold@umontana.edu.

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