Learning and Career Development

The Future of Learning and Why You Should Care

May 2, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEArticle, Learning and Career Development

Here at the CPA Center of Excellence and Indiana CPA Society, the driver behind our organization, we have been talking a lot about a competency-based approach to professional development, advocating for change to the CPE regulations and effective learning for CPAs, and the future of learning in a larger sense. Below is our quick guide to the future of professional development and learning.

In 2012 an Indiana CPA Society Board-level task force produced a white paper on the Future of Competency. In this paper we sought to look at the very broad world of education (K-12, higher education and continuing professional education) and consider trends and changes. As an association we need to ensure we’re meeting our members’ needs, and since CPE is such a big part of CPAs professional commitment, we wanted to know more about how education is evolving. After the work we did, we concluded that, well, there’s a lot more work to do.

Education is changing everywhere you go. In just a few minutes of conversation with any K-12 grade student you learn that online learning is so prevalent that some schools don’t even have snow days anymore — if it’s snowing, they just learn from home online. First-graders are being issued iPads. Hard copies of text books are a bit outdated. Smart boards are prevalent and flipped classrooms are the norm at one Indianapolis school. In the area of professional education, simulation and scenario-based learning is becoming more valuable. Some firms like Deloitte have gone to extensive measures creating entire campuses, like Deloitte University, with its enhanced learning and simulations that provide immediate feedback.

I had the privilege to be a member of the AICPA Future of Learning Task Force in 2013-14. I visited Harvard University and heard from their education experts, some from MIT and other nationally-recognized education innovators. I grew to understand our road to change was going to be hard, but that if we don’t start experimenting now, it will be even harder to catch up later. Even at these elite institutions, changing behaviors about learning wasn’t necessarily simple, but an ongoing process of trial and error. Despite that, it was evident the world isn’t going to become less complex anytime soon. With the chance to hear Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, speak about his mission to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere,” I better understood how technology is changing how we learn. It’s not about webinars. It’s about the accessibility of education — to anyone, anywhere. What does this mean for how we value and measure education as an organization at large, and for the CPA profession?


1. THE YOUNG PEOPLE YOU HIRE WILL BE INCREASINGLY DISINTERESTED IN SITTING in a classroom for eight hours at a time to earn CPE. And it’s not about moving it online. Sitting at a computer and staring at a screen with little interaction might be even less tolerable. The type of education you offer may be a differentiator for young people when choosing an employer. They are going to look for hands-on learning and real life scenarios in a way we haven’t seen before.

2. THE WAY YOU UNDERSTAND SOMEONE’S EDUCATION IS GOING TO CHANGE. Learning is accessible in so many ways, and with the complexity of our day-to-day workloads, we’ll be looking for people who can get the job done — not necessarily people with a specific GPA or a degree that took X number of years to attain. What do they know and how will you know they know it? We will begin to look to things like digital badges to tell us where someone has an expertise. Or, which MOOC’s did someone participate in and finish?

3. YOU, OR YOUR ORGANIZATION, SPEND A LOT OF TIME AND MONEY ON CONTINUING EDUCATION per regulatory requirements to meet an arbitrary number of hours to say you’ve maintained your competency as a CPA. Are you always getting bang for your buck in the current hours-based system? Does learning really only happen if it’s done in 50-minute increments? Or, is learning continuous and can it be earned and documented in different ways? Education is a critical area for the CPA profession. For the reasons stated, and many others, the CPA Center of Excellence and the Indiana CPA Society continue to ask questions and study the future of learning and competency.


Massive Open Online Courses are generally free and provide online, interactive learning. Courses typically have unlimited participation. EdX is one of the more prominent providers with universities like UC Berkeley, Harvard and MIT offering courses this way. Generally no official credit is offered; the learner is recognized for completing the course and learning the content.

Flipped Classroom
A form of learning where the “lecture” part is typically viewed online before a class and class time is used for collaboration, in-depth discussion or working on actual problems. It’s basically flipping the lecture and homework. The homework is done with the instructor so the student can ask specific questions or talk with others as needed to gain better insight and a better understanding of the content.

Digital Badges
Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to validate learning, and hold the potential to transform where and how learning is valued. They help demonstrate skills learned either online or in person. They are characterized by a symbol of some kind (a badge) that is digital and is coded to show whomever clicks on it, the skills, experiences, etc., achieved by the learner.

Launched in 1998, Mozilla is a community of technologists working to make the Internet accessible to all and to promote innovation. One of the group’s project is Mozilla Backpack. Available at backpack.openbadges.org, the backpack is like a locker you had in school or a network drive on your computer. It’s simply a place you can store your digital badges, making it easier to share them online via social media or your LinkedIn profile. Read the last page in our online courses guide for a brief tutorial on uploading your digital badges to Mozilla Backpack.

Sal Khan/Khan Academy
Through Khan Academy, students can make use of a library of content, including interactive challenges, assessments, and videos from any computer with access to the web. Sal Khan’s speech about his mission received a standing ovation at the October 2013 AICPA Council meeting in Los Angeles.

Future of Competency
A 2012-13 INCPAS task force that focused on the identification (plan), acquisition (education), and demonstration (experience) of behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for successful performance as a professional. Learning is one part of the future of competency. Read their report.

Future of Learning Task Force
A 2013-14 AICPA task force explored a new vision, developed by the task force, to reinvent lifelong learning and competency in the CPA profession. The task force research resulted in an extensive report.

Smart Board
The Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard that uses touch detection for user input (for example, scrolling and right mouse-click) in the same way as normal PC input devices.

Competency-based Learning
Learning formats that allow students flexibility to learn where and when they want to and to demonstrate mastery of content vs. completing a specific semester, or hours-based system. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education had several experimental sites allowing universities to try this approach without losing federal-aid eligibility. This is the type of education we advocate at the CPA Center of Excellence.






Burnout is Real, But it’s Avoidable

April 24, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEArticle, Blog, Learning and Career Development

I know I’ve talked incessantly about going back to school for my MBA at the ripe old age of 42 (see blog 1 and blog 2), but I’m bringing it up again because post-graduation I have some thoughts on burnout. That’s right. Instead of basking in the glow of my advanced education, when all was done I felt lost, a little numb, and frankly, bored. Thankfully, it was a temporary feeling and I’m recovering. I thought about writing on burnout this week because right after busy season, I’m guessing my friends in public accounting can relate.

During two full years of classes two nights a week, plus my job and family, I thought I was handling it like a champ. And mostly I was. But when it was all over I crashed hard. I couldn’t settle down. I couldn’t read a book without feeling the need to highlight something. I had what felt like endless migraines. I found my family to be sort of irritating. I’d think things like “I’m STILL here hanging out with you? Don’t I have to be somewhere else?” I realize that’s terrible (sorry family). I’d wrapped myself up so tightly in being efficient and effective and scheduled that I had no idea how to just BE anymore.

I keep reading about burnout and now I know it’s real. I think it’s why many companies and firms are adding sabbaticals to their benefits; many times these are mandatory. People just need a break sometimes — and they might not even know it. It’s important to be vigilant and take care of yourself even during your busiest times. Don’t do what I did. Examples of my bad behavior: No time for the gym — just give it up. Friends — I’ll probably have to see you in about two years. Family — I’ll show up, but I’ll often be preoccupied. I think I was trying to break a record for coffee consumption. And, I did it all to myself as I couldn’t possibly have a family, boss or colleagues who were more supportive. I just didn’t really notice what was happening.

There are articles everywhere that help us deal with burnout. Here are just a few:

I’ll boil it down to just four of my favorite tips:

  1. Take deep breaths. Often. Many times a day in fact. You’d be shocked how helpful this can be and how it clears your head if even only for a little while.
  2. Take days off with no designated purpose. Not to chaperone a field trip or work on your house. Just take a selfish day for yourself even if you feel selfish every day for being so busy – you still deserve ‘you time’.
  3. Take time to exercise. I’m sorry. I hate it, but it actually works. Do whatever makes you feel good and do it even when you don’t want to. I credit Stephanie Parton on our staff for inspiring me on this one.
  4. Take a few minutes each day to write a manifesto. Not a creepy one like the Unabomber, but one about what you want and need out of life. Just start writing and you’ll be surprised what comes out.

In an article I read recently in Inc. magazine (10 Mistakes Smart People Never Make Twice) Travis Bradberry says, “Emotionally intelligent people are successful because they never stop learning. They learn from their mistakes, they learn from their successes, and they’re always changing themselves for the better.”

I talked in my last blog about being proud of my accomplishment in going back to school and trying to better myself through continuous learning, so I felt I should also share some mistakes I made along the way that led to a feeling of burnout. I hope that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to not make those same mistakes again. And maybe, just maybe, someone who reads this will not make the mistakes in the first place. Deep breath.

#10: Never Stop Learning

January 17, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Learning and Career Development

Resolve to be a lifelong learner

Books are my great love, and my great compulsion. I browse bookstores and libraries to relax, clinging to the little shots of adrenaline I get discovering new stories and new ideas from the thoughtfully crafted end caps and table displays. Each new volume represents hope – optimism – unlimited possibility – delivered by new ideas from the words on the page.

Discovering new ideas brings depth and meaning to my life. This passion for learning has also been a great benefit to me professionally – and this is what we hope you get from our resolution blog series: 10 ideas or goals for the new year to bolster your career.

Luckily, I win. Everything we’ve written about this week can be tied to the resolution I chose to write about: Never Stop Learning.

No matter what you choose to focus on this year, the act of career improvement is lifelong learning. Changing your organization’s annual performance review policy requires you to learn. Improving your leadership, decision-making, communication and other non-technical skills is a form of learning that also requires you to think differently and be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. To make this type of learning happen, you must plan for it. To improve your interactions with other generations you must learn about them. Being open to a new method of working, like collaboration, allows you to learn from others. Lastly, innovation takes everything you’ve learned and feeds it into the basis of new ideas.

If you sincerely commit (or recommit) yourself to lifelong learning, there are no losses. No matter what you do, from first year public accounting to acting CFO of an international company, learning goes with you, it grows with you, and it will always give you an advantage — especially in today’s increasingly complex and global environment.

In a knowledge economy, your competitive edge comes from what you know or your ability and willingness to learn.

Now, I realize that some of you may be thinking, yea no kidding. It’s not a revelation that you must learn and adapt to be successful. Yet, this doesn’t mean we do our best — willingly or less so — to make time for deep learning. Day-to-day tasks, urgencies, emails, meetings and everything else involved with actually doing the work required for your career often pushes active learning aside. Truly becoming a lifelong learner requires incorporating the act of learning into your routines, your daily schedule, your calendar and your priorities. But often we don’t take the action to plan learning, as most of us operate under some modicum of curiosity and assume absorbing the knowledge we need is something that will just happen.

To truly be competitive in this knowledge economy, we must take an active, not passive, role in our own learning and develop a practice of learning.

That is my challenge to you this year – if you do nothing else, take an active role in your own learning, no matter what it is you need to know. And please forgive me for ending on an overused quote, because there is no better way to say it: knowledge is power.

If you need me, I’ll be over here, with the pile of books made from real paper.

Jess Halverson Bowyer is the strategist at the CPA Center of Excellence® and has worked for the Indiana CPA Society for six years. With a background in communications, design and visual thinking as well as a passion for learning, she has a hand in all things CPA Center of Excellence®, from strategic planning to learning design to hosting presentations and webinars.

#6 Stop Procrastinating

January 11, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEBlog, Learning and Career Development

Start prioritizing your learning

If you are a CPA, there is a high likelihood that you are a procrastinator. That’s right. I said it.

From Psychology Today –

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions — which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

Working with CPAs for almost 15 years now, boy do I appreciate the value of a deadline. As an example, in December each year people on our staff talk about closing the office between Christmas and New Year’s, and I always have to be the one to say “not gonna happen.” Because CPAs have the whole calendar year to get in their required minimum number of continuing education hours, they will definitely take the whole calendar year to fulfill that requirement. That means the last few days of the year we are offering continuing education seminars. Sometimes people show up and are ready to learn whatever we’re teaching because they have that deadline.

Is that the proper way to plan your learning? Just take what’s being offered? I don’t think so. But, I get it. I empathize. I’m maybe even one of you — a procrastinator. I ascribe to the whole “I work better under pressure” philosophy. Procrastination is the mother of creativity. I think I just made up that saying, but I also think sometimes it might be true. I often consider big tasks or projects something like this — inspiration could strike when I least expect it and an official plan would just hold me back from fulfilling my creative promise! And to tell the truth, it works. At least much of the time, because I have adapted to my deadline mentality.

But, when it comes to education, there should be a better way — and I know there’s a better way for CPAs. As the role of the CPA expands and changes year after year, it’s more important than ever to be deliberate in building and maintaining competencies in areas that, frankly, don’t always get enough attention. In a recent Fast Company article, economist Andrew Chamberlain talks about the “Top 5 Workplace Trends for 2017.” He discusses the rise of automation but says “Many things get automated but we don’t lose our jobs.” He’s not talking specifically about CPAs, but he makes the point that the routine work we’re used to doing will continue to get more and more automated, so we must all build on the skills the computers can’t do; that’s what will keep a career thriving. Simple, right?

The way Chamberlain puts it is that we need to “learn how to run a machine, not do the same work the machine does.” This kind of learning requires deliberate attention and planning. It’s not about memorization or checklists — those things are important — but how are you communicating what you’ve memorized or checked off, how are you using it to strategize and how are you adding value? If honing those skills isn’t a part of your approach to planning your learning, then they should be.

As we delve into a new year and think about our personal top five goals at work, what are you putting on your to do list? Are you seeking out opportunities to build your competencies beyond technical skills? Are you looking for unique ways to be better at what you do? Are you trying to find experiences outside of a classroom like volunteering on a task force or committee or taking on a new project outside of your comfort zone? Are you trying out online, on-demand classes that directly speak to your ability to meet the needs of your employer or your clients or your staff?

Even if you can’t predict how you’ll feel tomorrow or the next day, you can make a plan that addresses the skills you will rely upon in the future. Don’t do what I did (write this blog on the day it was due); look at your calendar! Think about what you need to know to be your best in 2017 and plan to seek out opportunities and education that will help you the most.

Jennifer Briggs, CAE, is senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Indiana CPA Society. She has been with INCPAS for nearly 15 years and has served in various prior roles including VP – member services and marketing director. Briggs has spent her entire career in association management working for two other associations and an association management group before joining INCPAS. She is a regular blogger for the Society.

#2: Plan to Lead

January 5, 2017By Lisa Fleck, CPABlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills, Learning and Career Development, Talent Management and People

Make professional development a priority, not an afterthought

In looking at the year ahead, do you know where you want to be by the end of the year? If not, this is the perfect time to start thinking about your skillset and professional development options. Resolve to have a plan this year. No time better than the present!

Where do you start? Hmmm? Do you even have time for this? The answer is yes! Investing back into ourselves and improving our leadership skills is one of the most important steps to take as we plan and prepare for this new year.

Self-awareness is one of the first steps you can take … but how do you know which skills are the ones you can use to move your leadership meter in the right direction? Do you take an inventory of your leadership skills like you do in your business?

This popular article from Forbes lists the top 10 traits of leadership:

  1. Honesty — by living by this standard yourself, you influence this in your environment
  2. Delegate — trust your team with the vision
  3. Communicate — to clearly communicate your vision ensures alignment; miss this and you and your team could be going in different directions
  4. Confidence — your team takes cues from you
  5. Commitment — Lead by example and your team will follow
  6. Positive Attitude —  if your team is happy, chances are they won’t mind putting in the extra effort.
  7. Creativity — not all best decisions are black and white
  8. Intuition — draw upon past experience but don’t forget to reach out to mentors
  9. Inspire — appreciation of the hard work completed and vision of the end in mind will keep your team inspired
  10. Approach — direct and to the point vs. subtle; Millennial vs. Generation X vs. Generation Y; cultural difference? Your approach is critical for the situation and people involved. Know your audience!

What about listening? What about caring? Leaders I’ve admired are good listeners and show how much they care. Listening and caring are two very key leadership traits that carry weight and move the needle when bundled with the Forbes Top 10 list. I’m sure one could argue for other top traits as well.

When planning my personal development for the new year, I like to start with the skill that I feel I need the most help with. Working and improving in my lesser skills, coupled with my stronger skills, is when I start seeing results shine through.

Where will you start your leadership journey in 2017?

Lisa Fleck, CPA, is the financial manager for Kimball Inc., in Jasper, Ind. She enjoys managerial and cost accounting; forecasting, profitability and cost control/management. Fleck’s passion is getting useful information in a timely manner so that quick decisions can be made to move the company profitably in the right direction. She is a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession. 

Start building your skills now with these six online courses designed specifically for CPAs and related professionals.

A Better Option for Ethics Education

October 19, 2016By Dennis Hickle, CPALearning and Career Development, News

The CPA Center of Excellence® is making headlines with the development of the first competency-based course that, beginning October 22, qualifies to meet the ethics requirement in Indiana. As a current educator who also maintains a small public accounting practice, as well as having prior experience in financial services and internal audit, I have seen it all when it comes to education for both students and professionals.

Dennis Hickle - Accounting
Dennis Hickle

I had the opportunity to take the new ethics course and would like to explain what makes it such an effective learning tool. One of the first things you will notice is how actively engaged you are with course material. You are expected to interact with other participants through online discussion forums during the entire course. You will be asked to share your opinions and observations as you progress through each module of the course.

The online interactive format makes it possible for the material to be presented using a variety of sources and mediums. For example, you will be asked to read articles and comment on them, and watch video clips and provide your opinions concerning the application of ethical principals in a variety of situations. This is the feature that truly differentiates this course from other CPE courses I have seen. As an educator I am always looking for ways to increase student engagement and interaction. The variety of presentation techniques helps keep you interested and actively involved with the material. Because you are actively engaged and required to react to the content, you will effectively assimilate and retain the information. In this course you don’t just absorb information, you are required to not only think about how to use it but also apply it.

Another key aspect of the course is that this method of learning also gives you flexibility and control as a learner. You are able to access the training program on any type of device with an internet connection at any time of the day or night. This allows you to complete the ethics CPE requirements on your schedule and in a way that works for you (you do have a 90-day window to complete the course once you start it). You can stop the program at any point and restart again from where you left off.

Unlike a traditional CPE course that awards credit based on the amount of time you spend sitting in class, this program awards credit based on your active participation and successful completion of the program modules. You can take as much or as little time as you need to master the content as you move through it. You can also access the information again at a later date to refresh your understanding of the issues covered in the training.

This is an engaging, multi-sensory learning experience. I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to satisfy your ethics requirement by taking this new course. And after experiencing this new approach to learning, I encourage you to provide the staff at the Indiana CPA Society with your feedback and suggestions for improvements or for new programs on other subject material that you would like to see developed by the CPA Center of Excellence®.

I am always excited to see innovative approaches to learning such as the competency-based course I described above. I strongly support this style of learning, and I hope other Indiana CPAs embrace it as well.

Want to learn more? Visit our Ethics Course page or watch the video below.



CPAs Want More Online Learning and Non-Technical Skills Training

February 18, 2016By Dave ShatkowskiInnovation, Learning and Career Development

The CPA Center of Excellence® recently conducted a survey of nearly 700 Indiana CPAs to gauge their learning preferences and the skills they need to enhance. The results further validate the growing need for online, interactive competency-based learning, soft skills assessment and development, and collaboration — the foundation on which the CPA Center of Excellence® was established in 2014.

“The survey results confirm what we’ve known to be true for some time now,” said Indiana CPA Society President & CEO Gary Bolinger, CAE. “First, that mastery of non-technical skills is critical for current and future CPAs. Second, the current hours-based system of education is outdated and not meeting CPAs’ needs. And third, CPAs want options for professional development and need help mapping out those plans.”

First, that mastery of non-technical skills is critical for current and future CPAs. Second, the current hours-based system of education is outdated and not meeting CPAs’ needs. And third, CPAs want options for professional development and need help mapping out those plans.

Most-desired personal skills
In terms of specific skills necessary to them personally, communication was first at 23 percent, with critical thinking second at 19 percent, problem-solving third at 18 percent, leadership fourth at 17 percent and analytical fifth at 16 percent. Among new hires, the skills most lacking were critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, analytical and leadership.

How employers handle soft skills
A related question asked how the CPA’s employer addressed the need to develop non-technical (soft) skills. Nearly 45 percent indicated their employer believes this education should be included within their continuing professional education requirements, while another 20 percent offer to pay for this training in addition to other continuing professional education. At the present time, CPAs in Indiana are required to obtain 120 hours of training every three years.

Professional development plans
Three other questions dealt with professional development plans. More than 62 percent said they do not currently have a plan, and nearly 65 percent would like resources to help develop one. Of those that do have a plan, only 44 percent said that their skills development is assessed.

Training needs
In terms of specific types of training, 75 percent of respondents said they need technical accounting, auditing and tax education as expected. But more than 40 percent (respondents could choose multiple types of education) said they also needed non-technical education such as leadership, critical thinking and communications training. And 13 percent indicated that they needed ethics training as well.

Competency-based learning
More than 35 percent of respondents agreed a shift to competency-based education for CPAs is needed, while only 16 percent disagreed. Nearly 50 percent said more information was needed to form an opinion. The Indiana CPA Society and the CPA Center of Excellence® have been leaders in the movement toward a competency-based continuing professional education system for CPAs. A competency-based approach simply means that competency must be demonstrated in order for a participant to advance through or complete a course.

“I like to learn at my own pace. When doing online learning, I am required to focus and learn. In a class setting, it is easier to just be physically present and not get much out of the class.”

Classroom and device training preferences
Classroom training was the top choice among CPAs for a learning environment; however, nearly 30 percent said they are most successful in online webinars while over 20 percent said they are successful in online self-study. These online education percentages are believed to be higher than in prior years. As far as devices used for online education, the laptop was used most, followed by a desktop, tablet and smartphone.

Most effective group sizes
Two questions addressed learning group size. Larger groups were the preference for both classroom and online learning. In a classroom environment, 93 percent preferred class sizes of 10 or more. In an online environment, 81 percent preferred groups of at least that size as well.

Formal vs. informal settings
When asked simply about their preferences between formal and informal settings for learning, nearly 64 percent of respondents preferred informal settings. And in terms of learning formats, an interactive format was the top vote-getter, followed by lecture and experiential.

“Formal is too restricted. There are often good ideas by the participants in classroom CPE, and they can offer valuable insight at times. A combination of lecture and interactive is best,” said one survey respondent. Another commented, “Informal settings usually allow for more participation and knowledge sharing of participants.”

A third respondent provided a perspective that contrasts competency-based learning with the current hours-based model: “I like to learn at my own pace. When doing online learning, I am required to focus and learn. In a class setting, it is easier to just be physically present and not get much out of the class.”


What problem do you want to solve?

December 29, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Learning and Career Development

I hate the passion question.

“What’s your passion” does nothing for me when it comes to goal-setting. First, just by the nature of the word, it implies a smug importance to your idea. Secondly, I don’t have just one overwhelming passion. I never have — I’m a very curious person and I find many, many things interesting.

I do know what problem I want to solve, though. He waltzed right into my life again the other week.

I was running the CPA Center of Excellence® table at a conference for CPAs to get their standard live hours-based CPE. Plenty of interesting topics and interesting people attending. Midway through the day, for one reason or another, a speaker finished his presentation a half hour earlier than he was supposed to. Now, I’m thinking, no big deal, he presented the same information that he would have otherwise, and I guess it just went faster than he thought. We are all adults here, ready to learn.

Not true. Big deal — because now my wonderful coworkers who were running the show that day had to call one of the other speakers and ask him to come in early and extend his presentation to make up for the lost time.

Why? Because of hours-based CPE. I know we all know this, you have to get the eight hours or so of CPE promised to you for that day, so in an hours-based model that means actually stretching the information to meet the time frame. Does stretching out to fulfill a timeframe increase the amount of learning that is happening in that room on that day? No, it just creates a logistics hassle for conference planners, and a laughable  situation for the CPAs in the room who are there ready to learn.

Little moments like this have been happening to me all of the time lately — where I step back and go, “There. That’s why we are doing this.”

Working at the CPA Center of Excellence®, with one of our grand plans being to change the CPE model from purely hours-based to including a competency-based function, it often feels like we are at the beginning of a very long hike over a very huge mountain — especially as the only person “officially” on staff (though I’ll be the first to tell you all of my hardworking INCPAS coworkers have put just as much sweat and elbow grease into the project as I have). If you would have asked me as an aspiring journalist at 18 if I would one day love to work at a CPA association, I would have laughed at you, or asked you what a CPA did. Ditto for if you asked me if this were my passion.

But seeing people face a lack of options for learning in a flexible, rewarding manner, or lose credit if they have to leave a half hour early to pick up someone from school or answer a phone call? That’s a problem I can get behind.

I guess I do have one passion, and that’s always learning. And I think you should have the right do that in a way that works for you, no matter who you are. Even CPAs. Especially CPAs.

*Idea spark credit goes to Hope Russu, who liked a slide on LinkedIn from Jim Murphy with a quote from Jamie Casap of Google who said “Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up but what problems do they want to solve.” Don’t you love the internet?

Learn outside your comfort zone

December 22, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Innovation, Learning and Career Development

When was the last time you learned something exciting?

I know mine. It was last week when I read an article about quantum computing. I’m not a physics or math or computer science devotee, but the idea that just by changing how we structure the way a computer processes information, it may be capable of computations we can’t yet imagine — now that’s fantastic idea. I even tried to relate it to accounting in my last blog so I could write about it (not sure I succeeded).

Quantum computing is not directly related to my work or my life (that I know of, ha) but that thread of a thought made me start thinking just a little differently. If quantum computing is possible — what else is possible? Is it possible that problems I’ve been trying to solve but haven’t yet, well maybe I just haven’t been processing the information in the best way? Maybe if I could turn my brain’s series of ones and zeroes into something multidimensional… Now that’s a different way of thinking.

When was the last time you challenged yourself to learn something outside of your comfort zone? I usually start my blog brainstorming process by scanning my accounting, business and local news emails, then going through blogs I follow, or folks I’m connected with on LinkedIn or Twitter — and it’s easy to see a lot of us are talking about the same things. If I see one more LinkedIn update that’s a repost of an HBR article (jk! I just did that, too). With all the talk of disruption and innovation in the business world (which really is it’s own sameness cycle), how can anyone be truly innovative if we are all talking about the same ideas?

Your best idea may come from somewhere you’ve never expected — but if you’re not out there listening, reading and learning in new areas, you might miss it. 

In honor of it being a great time of year to promise to yourself that you’re going to do new things, here are a few of my favorite places to learn things that might be utterly unrelated to anything else I’m doing:

Longreads.com and Longform the app:
Longreads.com and Longform the app are two spots that compile the best longform writing of the day — from New Yorker essays to the AV Club’s year end lists to stories from independent websites, you can read about anything here. Let them scan the internet for you so you can spend more time reading and less time browsing different websites.

A magazine and website, Wired is the home for breaking tech news — and really since tech touches all aspects of life nowadays this means so many things. You’ve probably heard of Wired already, but it’s still great. Just saying.

This one’s a bit of a cheat for me as far as learning something different: I’ve wanted to learn to code for a while now, but I’m just now committing to it. CodeSchool has you watch videos for courses and actually do exercises to practice your coding skills on the website. There are learning pathways that show you what you need to know for front end web development, Ruby, iOS and more. If you want other options, you can also try TreeHouse or CodeAcademy — there’s a lot of options out there.

Take an online course in, well, anything:
CourseraKhan AcademySkillshareUdemyedX: there are many many websites now where you can learn anything from personal finance to video production to basic psychology to nutrition to guitar — anything you can think of. Pick something that sounds interesting.

Let’s commit to doing one thing well this year: learning something we never expected to.

Now trending — for good

December 15, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Learning and Career Development, Uncategorized

Then there is autodidactic learning. That does focus on learners and recognizes that people can (and do) learn in many ways. Again, a focus on the learner. Not an arbitrary system that force fits everyone who wants and needs to acquire new skills and abilities into a rigid system.

The U.S. Department of Education is devoting space on their website to competency-based, or what they also call, personalized learning.

New Hampshire, Michigan and Ohio all have initiated programs with various approaches to competency-based learning for public schools. There are also local school districts in Alaska and rural Colorado implementing “performance-based” or “learner centered” education.

It was announced in January of this year that the Department of Education will allow up to 40 colleges and universities to test the competency-based water. But it is complex (I guess I said that already) … “This is much more complicated than any experiment they have done.” (said Amy Laitinen, deputy director – New America Foundation higher education program).

And of course, the U.S. Congress feels like they need to play in this space as well. While it didn’t make it to the White House for a signature (well it didn’t even make it to the Senate), the House of Representatives did pass H.R. 3136 – Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Projectduring the 113th Congress.

And finally, there was a pretty interesting Huffington Post blog in April … Sparks Fly: Competency-Based Education Catches. Julian Alssid does a great job of making the case of “workforce relevant education” and outlining benefits for working adults, while at the same time noting that not enough businesses in the U.S. understand the competency-based approach.

If our public schools and colleges are moving (and it seems swiftly) to a competency-based approach, the CPA profession needs to move as well. Let’s be innovative. Let’s be flexible and maybe have a little patience. And don’t feel threatened. If your preferred way to learn is in a seminar or conference, no one says that has to change. But at the same time, we must provide avenues for professionals who learn best (and more efficiently) in other ways.

Let’s just all agree that we need to focus on the learner and the outcomes. Not the system and the hours.