CPD is an extremely powerful and widespread means for supporting professionalism.
Over 80% of professional bodies in the UK have a defined CPD programme, with most professionals covered by a policy from association or their regulatory body. CPD has become a cornerstone for the identity of practitioners as professionals and is increasingly recognised as a method of demonstrating up to date professional practice.
CPD also allows professional associations to maintain and strengthen active engagement with their members and is used increasingly to encourage the development of communities of practice. Many professional codes specify not only that CPD is an obligation for professionals, but also that they are expected to support the CPD of others.
CPD is still quite new. It did not exist before the 1970s and many organisations have only adopted CPD policies since 2000. The changing nature of these increasingly widespread CPD programmes is also noteworthy.
Professional bodies have been switching from voluntary to compulsory compliance policies. In 2003, for example, just 14% of professional bodies had compulsory policies. By 2015, this had risen to approximately 50%, according to PARN surveys of UK-based professional bodies. This trend is set to continue: 22% with a voluntary policy in 2015 are planning to make CPD compulsory in the near future, compared with only 9% of those with a mandatory policy planning to make it voluntary.
There has also been a move away from measuring CPD participation by input (time spent on CPD activity) to output based measurement (reflection on what has been learnt and how practice has been altered as a result). In 2003, 25% of professional bodies measured outputs or a mixture of inputs and outputs; by 2015 this had increased to 54%.
These trends have both exacerbated challenges that have been part of CPD since its outset, and have introduced new ones. What have the longstanding challenges been?
Perhaps the most fundamental challenge for professional bodies has been to convince members of the benefits of their CPD policy. Many professionals ‘just do’ the things professional bodies require and see CPD as little more than ‘compliance’. But CPD is far more than merely ‘ticking the box’ – it is about keeping up to date, recording personal efforts and charting the fruits of these efforts in a manner specified by a professional body.
Opposition has generally come from longer serving practitioners, many of whom regard CPD as unnecessary bureaucracy, doing no more than reducing contact time with clients or patients. Others object to CPD requirements being the same for junior practitioners as it is for more experienced professionals.
CPD policies can be confusing. Getting members to understand what counts as CPD has been another challenge. In part, this reflects the difficulty of communicating accurate information. It also reflects the complicated and varied nature of CPD policies. For some, CPD is aimed at career or personal development, whilst for others it enforces protection of clients/patients and the general public.
In the past, some professionals might have considered what we now classify as continuing professional education (courses and further qualifications) as comprising their development activities. However, continuing professional development was introduced to emphasise that CPD is meant to be far more than just taking courses.
CPD is further complicated by a distinction between structured and unstructured CPD – sometimes referred to as verifiable and unverifiable. We also note that some professional bodies do specify certain compulsory activities such as completing courses in professional ethics.
CPD can be expensive both for practitioners and their professional bodies. Sometimes there is resentment among members, especially when some activities on offer may be of disappointing quality. It is difficult to assess whether the time and money spent on activities will be worthwhile. This has led to calls for professional bodies to accredit the quality of CPD activities on offer. In addition, professional bodies have had to hire more staff to run their CPD programmes.
These three challenges have been intensified by two trends in the development of CPD policies. Overcoming reluctance to record CPD becomes a more serious issue when CPD is compulsory. In order for a compulsory policy to be credible, there must be some consequences to non-compliance. This involves professional bodies scrutinising members more intensely, as well as the need to develop appropriate sanctions. This, in turn, posits the question ‘how might such sanctions compare with procedures around professional misconduct?’
Introducing output based CPD measurement has exacerbated these challenges. Securing a sound understanding of the value and even of what constitutes a worthwhile activity can be problematic. This can increase the cost of assessing CPD returns.
This is quite apart from the challenge of measuring subjective assessments and reflections, which can appear exceptionally daunting. So, as the line between acceptable and unacceptable contributing activities becomes subject to more detailed interpretation, and the administration of sanctions for non-compliance becomes ever more present, so the aforementioned issues become more and more significant.
The rise of compulsory CPD and output measures means that audit of CPD records becomes a necessity. The difficulty then is how to measure reflection and how to assess impact on practice and ultimately on clients/patients and employers. Direct assessment of CPD outcomes demands new skills for making assessments and for ensuring consistency among those carrying out those assessments.
Authenticity, sufficiency and relevance are all aspects of carrying out audits and each needs to be clarified. In addition, linking reflection to evaluation and planning are frequently seen as ways of demonstrating sufficient output.
PARN will be carrying out further research on ways professional bodies can meet these challenges in the future.
Article originally featured in International Accountant magazine.
Do you want to work on the CPD offering at your professional body? Find out more about PARN’s CPD Services.