Critical Appraisal of Continuing Professional Development
Sep 2, 2009 Career Development 2917 Views
CPD or not CPD? That is the question. The aim of this essay is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of which it has been said "is fast attaining an as yet unchallenged status as orthodoxy" (Sadler-Smith and Badger, 1998). The CPD Institute defines its namesake on its website as "the systematic maintenance and improvement, of knowledge, skills and competence, and the enhancement of learning undertaken by an individual throughout his or her working life."
Specific issues that will be explored within this text include why CPD is undertaken, whether it should be voluntary or mandatory for professionals, with whom the responsibility for CPD should lie, what constitutes CPD, and how it is delivered. Additional discussion will center around the level of support that is offered to individuals engaging in CPD, how this activity is measured and monitored fairly and effectively, and the future of CPD. Finally the overall value of CPD will be considered. The main sources of material for this essay are theory and opinion from academic journals, high quality newspapers and other relevant literature.
From a high level perspective the primary motivation for an individual to undertake CPD activity is as part of his or her ongoing professional development throughout their career. There are many grounds for CPD from a personal perspective, outlined perhaps most succinctly by as "
1. Because it is necessary to avoid losing one's license to practice;
2. Because it is enjoyable in itself;
3. Because it enables a person to make up lost ground;
4. Because it enables a person to maintain his or her current position;
5. Because it enables a person to get ahead of the competition;
6. Because it affirms a person's identity as a good professional" (Rothwell and Arnold, 2005).
However it is not only in the interests of the individual actually developing themselves but also for a number of other relevant stakeholders, mainly the professional's firm given that competent members of staff should ultimately lead to superior profits, the professional's sector (including regulators and overseeing bodies) upon which is bestowed a sense of pride in that its constituent members are upholding high standards, and the economy as a whole in that the population can be confident that the industries delivering goods and services in the marketplace are capable and take a collective, proactive approach to doing so. This opinion is supported by Madden and Mitchell who describe the logic behind CPD as "formulated with regard to the needs of the professional, the employer, the profession and society" (Madden and Mitchell, 1993). CPD can also be valuable to colleges and universities who support it, encouraging the forging of links with real world business.
The picture that has been painted of CPD above is clearly a very positive one but there are issues that have been identified in the way that it's delivered, particularly as to whether CPD should be a voluntary or a mandatory exercise. In their research Jones and Fear state that "The sanctions model occurs where there is a mandatory requirement for members to undertake CPD, and where non-compliance may result in sanctions" (Jones and Fear, 1994) and that "The benefits model, which is usually found in new or developing institutions, emphasizes the benefits of CPD to the individual" (ibid.).
The former is usually in place where members of a profession are required by law to attain certain qualifications or statuses whilst the latter is found where this is not the case (although there are exceptions). An important implication for professional bodies imposing mandatory CPD requirements is that they can "risk alienating their established members" (Watkins, 1999) which "may engender resistance and impede engagement" (Rothwell and Arnold, 2005). It has been argued, however, that "if it was of a purely voluntary nature, CPD would become minimal" (Jones and Fear, 1994) and that "the 'requirement' to undertake CPD can also have the happy effect of assisting professionals in putting pressure on their employers to support them in undertaking activities for their own professional development" (Taylor, 1996). In one survey, nevertheless, "The vast majority (85 per cent) [of professional body members] stated that they were not in favour of mandatory CPD" (Jones and Fear, 1994).
The divide between supporters of voluntary and mandatory CPD respectively is not the only inherent issue however. There are also differences in opinion as to with whom the responsibility for CPD should lie, which is very much centred around the waning concept of the "Expectation of a 'job for life'" (Middlehurst and Kennie, 1997). Watkins argues that "If the majority of professionals can no longer expect to stay with one employer for life, an employer can no longer be relied upon to provide the training necessary for the professional to continue performing the job efficiently and effectively" (Watkins, 1999). This view that the professional is very much responsible for their own development is backed by Rothwell and Arnold who state "Ownership of CPD needs to rest with individuals, otherwise they may feel alienated from it" (Rothwell and Arnold, 2005).
However on the flip side it can be contended that a firm is liable to support its staff to an extent in terms of a "development contract" (Herriot and Pemberton, 1995) which ties in with Argyris' ideas surrounding learning individuals and hence learning organizations (Argyris, 1991). Watkins develops his view outlined above, stressing that "This new emphasis on mentoring and the stakeholder approach suggests that CPD is increasingly being viewed essentially as a partnership between the professional, the employer and the professional association - a partnership which is informed by, and takes into account the needs and requirements of the client" (Watkins, 1999). As outlined earlier in this essay CPD has a number of stakeholders so it would seem prudent and fair that they should each take a level of responsibility for it.
It's all very well considering whether CPD should be voluntary or not and with whom responsibility for this development should lie but a vastly important question arises as to what actually constitutes CPD and how it is delivered. Sadler-Smith, Allinson et al. outline three core methods of learning, namely: self-directed, for example reading journals; traditional, for example attending courses; and work-based, for example taking part in projects (Sadler-Smith, Allinson et al., 2000). Their research found that self-directed methods of learning "were rated as less effective by respondents [professionals engaging in CPD] than traditional methods and work-based methods of learning" (ibid.) which "raises important questions about the perception and validity of self-directed learning as a method of CPD for personnel practitioners" (ibid.), particularly significant perhaps as these methods "have been heavily promoted by the UK government" (ibid.).
This has been further analyzed by Rothwell and Arnold who suggest that the delivery of CPD opportunities should depend upon the individual. They claim that engagement with CPD "may depend on an individual's ability to learn, their cognitive style, or dispositional factors" (Rothwell and Arnold, 2005). Further support for the diversification of CPD offerings comes from Watkins who states that "professional development is not just a question of specifying taught courses for defined core skills but a matter of developing the all-round potential of the individuals concerned" (Watkins, 1999). Jones and Fear add that "the concept concerns more than simply undertaking formal training" (Jones and Fear, 1994).
Having built up an impression of whose responsibility CPD is and how opportunities can be delivered it is clear that a certain level of support is required to engage individuals, whether from their firm, their overseeing body or their educational institution. Argyris states that "because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure" (Argyris, 1991) and that "because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure" (ibid.). Sadler-Smith, Allinson et al. speak of "the 'learned helplessness' engendered by traditional education and training systems" (Sadler-Smith, Allinson, et al., 2000). Jones and Fear add that "It has also been noted that it is always those who need CPD most who are least likely to do it" (Jones and Fear, 1994). It was stated earlier that CPD certainly requires joint ownership but perhaps the theories presented here suggest that a sense of encouragement is necessary from the professional's firm and overseeing body, a period of hand holding throughout the initial stages of CPD, which will ultimately generate the rewards discussed at the beginning of this essay for all stakeholders involved.
This environment does not seem to exist at present in that professionals do wish to engage in CPD but are not being given the type of support which is necessary. Jones and Fear identified in their research that "Eighty per cent of respondents stated that their organization would support their CPD through time, while 60 per cent stated that their organization would support their CPD with financial assistance. It is therefore a little surprising that, although most organizations are willing to invest resources in their employee's CPD, many do not have a coherent CPD policy" (ibid.). Jones and Fear cited a case where the former Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD, now the CIPD) offered a range of CPD support material to its members, which had been exhausted within two years only to be replaced by a watered down version (ibid.). Given that the organization in question was to some extent spearheading the CPD cause, this is a prime example of the evident lack of ongoing support that professionals require in order to take full advantage of the benefits of CPD.
As with the areas covered so far, difficulties have been reported as to the way in which CPD activity is measured and monitored. Given that CPD is effectively development it's a reasonable expectation that the results of this development can be registered in some way. Traditionally professional bodies have set a minimum number of hours of CPD per year to which their members must comply alongside an additional reporting requirement. However, as per Rothwell and Arnold "the focus on 'hours' as an output indicator was felt to be less helpful than attitude to CPD" (Rothwell and Arnold, 2005) and "Record-keeping for CPD is seen by many professionals as a chore" (ibid.). Their research uncovered feedback from professionals such as "I do the CPD: recording and writing it all up is another matter!" (ibid.).
Taylor further implies a potentially damaging consequence of handling this issue improperly, asserting that "the practice of monitoring CPD, which is designed to maintain high standards in professional practice, has the ironic effect of encouraging a behavioral inclination which it should be a part of any profession's ethics to eschew, namely, deception" (Taylor, 1996). Clearly CPD can be of no value if professionals are to some extent forced into lying because the record of their development is seen as a pointless labor rather than the valuable exercise that it should be. Watkins also disputes the hours-based system stating "Although this system was relatively easy to organize, today many professional bodies see it as being of limited value and are moving towards measures based on 'outputs' and defined competence" (Watkins, 1999). Jones and Fear's research supports this view in that "Some 70 per cent of those surveyed stated that they were in favor of accreditation certificates for their CPD" (Jones and Fear, 1994).
CPD has become an important part of many professionals' lives and important consideration should be given to its future by those who oversee structured programs, be it industry bodies or academic institutions. Rothwell and Arnold propose that "given the increasing complexity of working life, the accelerating pace of change, and the declining half-life of knowledge, the push for CPD is likely to become even greater" (Rothwell and Arnold, 2005). The Government is pushing ever more for the improvement of skills throughout the economy, particularly with the recent launch of the Learning and Skills Council's In Our Hands campaign. Just this month it has been reported that the Chartered Insurance Institute, Institute of Financial Planning, Securities & Investment Institute and Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland have announced a merger intention including a statement that "a framework of continuing professional development will be agreed and then implemented" (Lumsden, 2008).
There have been multiple other positive reports in recent months to suggest that CPD is moving from strength to strength, especially thanks to technological advances. An article forming part of the Financial Times' Professional Development 2007 Report which details the ongoing innovations in internet based learning applications cites a number of cautionary comments, however, including "As a firm [PKF (UK) LLP] we are still very skeptical about e-learning, certainly as a substitute but even as a complement [to face-to-face learning]" (Baxter, 2007). This extract illustrates that those considering the future of CPD echo earlier concerns outlined in this essay. Sadler-Smith, Allinson et al. add "Further research into learners' attitudes towards self-directed and flexible methods is desirable if the opportunities presented by many of the latest innovations in teaching and learning are to be fully realized" (Sadler-Smith, Allinson et al., 2000).
CPD or not CPD? That is the question. Throughout the course of this essay a number of issues central to the purpose and value of CPD have been considered. It has been established that there are multiple motivations and benefits for a range of stakeholders and that these entities need to work together in conjunction for CPD to be of any great value. It has also been demonstrated that professionals are not partial to mandatory CPD or indeed tedious recording mechanisms to prove their development.
Additionally it has been observed that the support available to individuals undertaking CPD is not as effective as it could be and that the content and delivery of CPD programs, whether academic or not, should be tailor made rather than generic to all participants. CPD is certainly a valuable tool if implemented effectively and could equate to the difference between a good career and a great career for the professional. However in order to unlock its potential it is clear that the organizations charged with its delivery do not remain out of touch with individuals' needs and begin to offer increasingly bespoke options leading to valued accreditation. These bodies need to instigate an open dialogue with professionals, firms and their peers so that all parties are fully aware of ways in which they can maximize the success of CPD and set the paving of its future direction into place.