I was an MBA dropout. I got married, became a stepmom, bought a new house, had a baby – you know, all the usual excuses. And then I decided to go back this year, and I am invariably one of the oldest people in my classes (if not THE oldest). It doesn’t bother me. Usually. But, there are times when I’m working with 20 and 30-something engineers, lawyers, finance guys (and they are still mostly guys) with no management experience, in the first 500 level leadership class, when, well, the mom in me comes out because I just can’t help myself. When you’re working with people with a very different level of experience than you have it can be challenging. Doing it at night, after a full day’s work, can test your nerves. I actually said the other evening “Okay, I’m not happy with any of you boys right now” when I was the only one in my group who attempted to communicate about or prepare for a class presentation.

Feb_27_blogTime for a disclaimer: There’s almost always something to be learned from others no matter the situation or the circumstances. And I do really like my classes, my professors, my classmates, etc.

As I get back into these mandatory classes in my program, I can’t help but wonder – couldn’t there be a conversation I could have with the professor or the dean to talk about my experiences and move myself through the program in a slightly different way? I mean, I don’t know if I want to spend my evenings “watching the process” as my leadership professor put it while we worked on the group project. For undergrads this might be a great. For graduate students with little working experience, this might be helpful. For me – I’ve seen that “process” about a 1,000 times and I don’t want to observe it at night when I’ve been living it all day (not to mention the last 20 years).  I want to dive into decision-making, the next steps of leadership, one-on-one guidance … and I want to do it at my own pace.

Have you ever felt like that about a CPE class? I’m guessing you have, but there’s always THE SYSTEM. THE SYSTEM for CPE says that CPAs have to sit in a room for X number of hours to really learn even if there could be a way they could learn more in less time, at their own pace, perhaps with people with a similar experience level …? The whole CPE system for CPAs is set up to accommodate THE SYSTEM not to accommodate individual learners. It feels a little bit like that with my program.

This isn’t an indictment of my school, higher education or of classes for people with different experience levels. All are outstanding when done right and make sense for a lot of people and topics. But, isn’t it time to consider changes? Isn’t it time to consider giving people more options, flexible timing, competency-based material, and then letting them (with oversight) guide themselves through the education they need based on their own strengths and weaknesses?

I don’t mean to imply we should never sit in a class together and learn from others – I just wish THE SYSTEMS we’re all subject to could be a little more flexible. Truth be told, I appreciate the 500 level law and finance classes – those are not my areas of expertise and those lawyers and finance guys who are driving me crazy now can likely run circles around me in those classes. That’s the point. Maybe they shouldn’t have to take exactly the same course I take in finance, but could spend more time in leadership classes? We’d still get the same MBA, but work on the areas we each need to improve in.

With all this in mind, it seems a good time to mention that the Society has some exciting new options for competency-based learning in the form of interactive online modules coming to members this May. We’ve had help from a lot of your colleagues in the profession to make this new approach as valuable as possible. We’re looking forward to sharing it with you in a few months, so keep watching this blog for more information.