How many of us could claim that our careers have not changed over the previous ten years, if asked? in the previous five years? even the most recent year? The status quo in our daily occupations is disrupted by competition and new technology, and the business landscape today is nothing if not malleable. A workforce with a good education is efficient and adaptable, picking up new trends and creating their own, but this doesn’t happen over night.
As HR leaders, we are frequently asked to guide learning approaches, organize a “learning” team to coordinate professional development, or create ongoing education programs to help shape the professional growth of our staff. The concept of continuing professional education (CPE) is not new, but as ways of learning evolve, so does our understanding of how CPE might be used.
Learning and Development in the Workplace
Back to School
The first step in professional development and learning will always be what is done each day on the job – building efficiencies, making changes, learning new skills. But, while those focus on what is already at hand, the idea of CPE revolves around gaining access to knowledge and skills that are not going to be easily mastered when you are focused on getting the job done.
The most well-known form of CPE is to go back for post-secondary and post-graduate education. Be it an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorates, developing a new set of core skills or expanding on existing ones using an accredited institution is one of the most effective ways of building a knowledge base for a career. Learning and development is critical when developing future leaders at your company.
This effectiveness does come with a cost: the time and price to complete programs of this nature can be intimidating for employees. Cognizant of this, we in the HR profession have a few avenues to guide our employees to success.
- If your company can afford it, tuition reimbursement is a huge incentive; by providing a reasonable annual sum that covers a portion of tuition, employees can spread their education out (to avoid becoming overloaded).
- Many universities offer executive degrees (which have potentially higher costs but shortened terms for completion) which, if taken advantage of, can quickly yield dividends; modifying your reimbursement amounts for these fast-track courses might be worthwhile.
- Distance learning courses can expand the potential university/college pool for employees as well as letting them shop around for lower tuition rates.
- CPE accreditation courses are typically available so working with a local university to find and communicate a schedule can save time for employees who require a certain number of credits each year to remain certified in their field.
It is important to avoid the concept of credentialism. Focusing entirely on the idea of traditional degrees as the be-all and end-all of development can be a disservice to our employees, just as we wouldn’t recruit someone based solely on where they attended school. Our people’s education and experience together make up who they are, and developing their professional skills internally can assist ensure that anyone who wants to learn something is able to do so.
Over the past ten years, e-learning has seen a resurgence. For use by both large and small businesses, learning management systems (LMS) like Raytheon, Skillsoft, and Halogen have emerged with fully configurable curricula, websites, and cloud-based courses; these are less expensive (but very expansive!) A variety of courses are offered by Lynda.com, which LinkedIn just bought. Each choice enables staff members to pick when and where they want to pick up new abilities. Engaging these businesses to create a curriculum and implement it inside can seem intimidating at first, but appointing a team to gather information and collaborate with management to identify what employees need to develop will enable a strong internal professional development program.
The key here is to shop around the solutions that make the most sense if you don’t already have one in place; if you do, take time annually to review your available courses (checking out what is new and what is/is not being used) to make sure your course listing remains relevant.
As a relative newcomer, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is tying together the old and the new CPE forms and doing it all for free. MOOCs are collections of online tutorials, coursework and materials from top universities and colleges around the world that are free to access online. Several non-profit organizations (such as Coursera, edX, and EDUCAUSE) organize and support these systems and the amount of material grows daily.
The value of MOOCs comes in the breadth of topics offered and, of course, their inexpensive/easily accessible nature. As a tool to brush up on skills or to learn new subjects, they are easy to pick up and use and are a great adjunct for smaller business who are looking for something to advance certain skills without having to contract out to a full LMS. Some drawbacks worth pointing out include:
- Coursework does not yield accreditation/degree.
- You will need to be self-motivated since there is no official grading or tracking.
- They can be impersonal for those who prefer a traditional professor/student relationship.
Of course, the end game for all CPE will be to help our employees gain knowledge and skills and continue the journey of educating themselves. Learning and development especially self-development is key. Keeping the door open for all of the different options and exploring each will make sure that we have a good mix of resources available for them to maximize their potential.