The recent AICPA/NASBA CPE Standards Exposure draft comment period ended on April 30. I don’t know if you saw the exposure or any information about it. This was actually a “re-exposure” because, as I understand it, of the volume and nature of comments received on the original exposure. It really isn’t clear what this exposure draft – these proposed revised CPE standards – are trying to accomplish. At least the intent doesn’t appear to be in the introduction. However, the introduction clearly indicates that CPE is required to maintain professional competence and CPAs are responsible for complying with the applicable rules (regulations).

CompetencyI wonder … is it at all possible that the pursuit of maintaining one’s professional competence and complying with applicable regulations are not always complementary? Is it even remotely possible that regulation and pursuit of competence could actually be in conflict with each other? With increasing specialization in the CPA profession and the transformation that learning is going through, I think so. OH … one other thing. Are they serious about maintaining professional competence? Shouldn’t the profession be committed to enhancing or advancing competence? To maintain in todays’ environment is to fall behind.

The recent AICPA task force on the Future of Learning notes that “Now is the time to reinvent classrooms, rethink development models and embrace the future of learning.” The report calls for the profession to Innovate and Experiment; Ignite a Passion for Learning; Make Learning Personal and Measure What Matters. This task force tried to start a very important dialog. It is a good report. I believe that it is directionally on point. Unfortunately, the CPE Standards Exposure draft is mired in the past. It is a clear focus on compliance on hours. Butts in seats. It doesn’t even suggest to measure what really matters (competence). It certainly doesn’t encourage innovation.

Fast Company recently published The Six Tech Advances In Higher Ed That Are Preparing Students For The Future Of Work. The blog notes that all too often, the media fails to cover “technological innovations that are tremendous catalysts of change.” They list six “key developments”: Makerspaces, Affective Computing, Robotics, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning, and Bring Your Own Device. That’s pretty heady stuff. Of course this isn’t an opinion piece, it’s based on research jointly conducted by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). The NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition also includes Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption in Higher Education and Significant Challenges Impeding Technology in Higher Education. The challenges are grouped by two and are categorized as “solvable,” difficult and wicked. Among the solvable challenges … Blending Formal and Informal Learning. If transformation of learning in education is “solvable” it should be “solvable” for the profession that led the charge for mandatory continuing education 50 years ago.

There’s all kinds of discussion about alternatives to the model. In addition to blended learning there’s adaptive learning, self-directed learning and competency-based learning to name a few. And let’s not forget that the old standby, on-the-job training, has always been an effective form of learning.

The profession needs to take the lead here. If blending formal and informal learning is solvable in higher education it certainly must be solvable for a profession that has built much of its reputation on problem solving. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s professionals. If they consider entry to the CPA profession and make note of an antiquated system of learning required to be a CPA after they have been exposed to new ways or learning – new learning technologies – they will surely look elsewhere when choosing a profession.

If we want to “ignite a passion for learning” and “make learning personal” as the AICPA Future of Learning Task force suggests, tweaking a system that is horribly out of date and making it even more inflexible and more compliance oriented is not the answer.

If we get the right people in the room, the transition to a contemporary system of learning for license renewal is indeed possible. It won’t happen overnight. With 55 jurisdictions in play, there will be plenty of bumps in the road. But the regulators in those jurisdictions must permit – no, ENCOURAGE – innovation in competency enhancement. That means there will be some failures. But informed failure begets success.  The time is overdue for the profession to commit to bold steps in reforming a system to renew a CPA certificate in the United States. The profession owes it to the public it serves that CPE hours don’t matter. Relevant learning does.